A student was recently hospitalised with the condition after she left in her tampon for 9 days

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has hit headlines after a student almost died of the condition after she forgot to remove her tampon for nine days.

Emily Pankhurst, 20, thought exam stress had caused her to become weak and bloated, but she was rushed to A&E when she started to feel faint, slurred her words and her skin became mottled.

Doctors diagnosed Ms Pankhurst with sepsis caused by TSS.

What is TSS?

It is an infection caused by the Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. They usually live on the skin, nose and mouth without causing harm. But if they enter the bloodstream they can release poisonous toxins which can cause sepsis.

What are the symptoms?

Those with TSS will usually experience a very high temperature of above 38.9°C, before quickly showing other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting; diarrhoea; dizziness; confusion and low blood pressure. Flu-like symptoms of a headache, aching muscles, sore throat and a cough also occur. A person’s lips, tongue and whites of the eyes may also redden, and they can experience a rash similar to sunburn, according to the NHS. 

Later, the skin may peel and scale from the palms and soles of the feet. 

How common is it? 

TSS is a rare condition, which can affect anyone. It was first reported as a disease in 1978, according to the US National Organisation for Rare Disorders. 

However, women using tampons on their periods, especially those which are particularly absorbent, are more at risk for unknown reasons. Some experts believe that using tampons for a prolonged time may raise the production of the toxin, which may enter the bloodstream via the uterus or small cuts in the vaginal lining. 

As the flu-like and feverish symptoms are common in other conditions, it is unlikely a person showing them will have toxic shock. However, the NHS website advises: “However, symptoms like these should never be ignored. Contact your GP, local out-of-hours service or NHS 111 immediately.”

It also advises those wearing tampons to remove them immediately, and to alert the doctor if you have worn one or have recently suffered a skin injury such as a burn that has become infected. 

What are the effects?

TSS can damage the organs, including causing kidney and liver failuer, as well as the skin and tissue. 

How is it tested and treated?

Doctors will look for external symptoms and also test for organ damage and the presence of infection. 

A course of antibiotics will the be prescribed if it is caught early. However, intensive care treatment is needed for those who develop sepsis: the UK second biggest killer. 

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