Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins.

It's often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age – including men and children.

TSS gets worse very quickly and can be fatal if not treated promptly. But if it's diagnosed and treated early, most people make a full recovery.

Symptoms of toxic shock syndrome

The symptoms of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) start suddenly and get worse quickly. They include:

Sometimes you may also have a wound on your skin where the bacteria got into your body, but it may not look infected.

When to get medical advice

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a medical emergency.

While these symptoms could be due to a different condition, it's important to contact your GP, a local out-of-hours service, or NHS 111 as soon as possible if you have a combination of these symptoms.

It's very unlikely that you have TSS, but these symptoms should not be ignored.

Go to your nearest A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance immediately if you have severe symptoms or they are rapidly getting worse.

If you're wearing a tampon, remove it straight away. Also tell your doctor if you've been using a tampon, recently had a burn or skin injury, or if you have a skin infection such as a boil.

If a doctor suspects you have TSS, you'll be referred to hospital immediately.

Treatment for toxic shock syndrome

If you have toxic shock syndrome (TSS), you'll be admitted to hospital and may need to be treated in an intensive care unit.

Treatment for TSS may involve:

Most people will start to feel better within a few days, but it may take several weeks before you're well enough to leave hospital.

Causes of toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is caused by either staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria.

These bacteria normally live on the skin and in the nose or mouth without causing harm, but if they get deeper into the body they can release toxins that damage tissue and stop organs working.

These things can increase your risk of getting TSS:

TSS is not spread from person to person. You do not develop immunity to it once you've had it, so you can get it more than once.

Preventing toxic shock syndrome

The following things can reduce your risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS):

It's a good idea to avoid using tampons or female barrier contraception if you've had TSS before.

Page last reviewed: 27 September 2019
Next review due: 27 September 2022