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Diseases & Topics

Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by toxins produced by either Staphylococcus aureus (non-streptococcal TSS) or group A Streptococcus (streptococcal TSS) bacterium. These bacteria are commonly found on the human skin and in the mucous membranes, even in people who are well. Illness can occur when the bacterial toxins enter the body, as through skin abscesses or surgery, and has been associated with use of tampons and intravaginal contraceptive devices in women. Streptococcal TSS infection, one of several forms of group A streptococcal invasive diseases (GASs), is most often associated with transmission through skin lesions. Toxic shock infections are treated with antibiotics and supportive care.

Both streptococcal and staphylococcal TSS can manifest suddenly, with fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle aches, and rapidly progress to very serious condition involving severe drop in blood pressure and failure of body functions. However, there are several differences. Staphylococcal TSS symptoms often include a sunburn-like rash, which is only occasionally seen in the streptococcal infection. With its relationship to skin and surgical-site infections, streptococcal TSS is often accompanied by severe tissue damage (necrosis) and/or blood infection (sepsis), and these complications give streptococcal TSS a much higher fatality rate. The streptococcal fatality rates can be as high as 50 percent, while about 1 in 20 staphylococcal cases are fatal. In either case, TSS is extremely serious and requires immediate medical care.

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