Research News

Toxic Shock Syndrome – a rare but dangerous illness.

Written by Dr Colin Michie for Children’s Heart Federation’s Update, Summer 2007

It you have heard of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), you probably associate it with women using tampons. However, tampon-related cases account for only half of the TSS cases in the UK each year. The other 50% of cases result from localised infections, for example following burns, cuts or surgery.

Men, women and children can all get TSS but young people tend to be more at risk because they may not yet have the necessary antibodies to protect them from the toxin that causes TSS.

TSS is caused by the common bacteria – Staphylococcus aureus – which normally live on the skin and in the nose, armpit, groin or vagina of one in every three people. Very rarely certain strains of these bacteria produce toxins (poisons) that cause TSS.

If a child contracts TSS, then they will develop severe ‘flu-like’ symptoms such as a high fever, vomiting, a sun-burn like rash, muscle-aches and general weakness. An early diagnosis is really important as TSS can then be successfully treated with fluids, antibiotics and more specifically immunoglobulins.

If you think your child is displaying symptoms of TSS, then it is a good idea to consult your doctor at once. Do not worry about being alarmist – it is important to rule out the possibility of TSS, especially if your child is recovering from an operation.

Parents can be reassured however that TSS is a very rare illness. From a population of around 60 million there are only about 40 cases reported each year. Children are monitored carefully after any heart operation and TSS has only been reported in a handful of post-operative cardiac patients.

As previously mentioned, this is an illness that a few parents are aware of and although cases are thankfully still rare, it is very important to spread this awareness to as many parents as possible. Vigilance by parents will always help prevent serious illness from conditions such as TSS.