Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS, is a disease caused by a staphylococcal (staff-il-o-COCK-ul) infection somewhere in the body that releases a toxin into the bloodstream. Toxic Shock Syndrome was widely publicized in the early 1980s because of an epidemic caused by using super-absorbent tampons. It may also occur with infected wounds, surgery, or other staphylococcal infections, but these are less common.
Women who use tampons exclusively during menstruation are considered to be at the highest risk. Tampons provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Also, small scratches on vaginal walls from tampon fibers may provide an avenue for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Symptoms of TSS include the sudden onset of high fever, severe vomiting, diarrhea, aching muscles, and a rash that resembles a sunburn.
The syndrome may progress rapidly with skin peeling in layers from the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Women can help protect themselves from TSS by avoiding the use of super-absorbent tampons, by changing tampons frequently, and by rotating tampon use with napkins.