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Dispelling the Myths of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Few people are aware of toxic shock syndrome and the life-changing effects it can have, which is why it is important to dispel the myths and understand the realities.

 medical negligence lawyers

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but very serious illness that can quickly develop if it is not diagnosed and treated early on. If untreated, it is potentially life threatening. TSS is a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. These bacteria may live harmlessly on the skin, but if they invade the body’s bloodstream they can release poisonous toxins which damage tissue, including skin and organs, and affect the functions of vital organs.

The NHS advises the most common causes of toxic shock syndrome include:

  • Cuts or burns to the skin.
  • Nasal packing to treat a nose bleed.
  • An infected wound following surgery.
  • Female contraceptives, such as a contraceptive diaphragm.
  • Child birth.
  • A woman’s period – more so if a tampon is left in for a long time.


Toxic Shock Syndrome Does Not Just Affect Women

TSS is commonly – and wrongly – thought of as a woman’s disease, caused only by tampons and contraceptives. This is incorrect, and must be addressed by raising awareness of the other causes of TSS so that everyone is aware of the likely causes. In fact, TSS affects men and women alike, but young children who have not yet developed the necessary defensive antibodies are at an increased risk.

The link between TSS and tampons is uncertain, but it is thought that the use of tampons – or any internal vaginal device - could increase the risk of TSS. The NHS advises that you:

  • always use a tampon with the lowest absorbency suitable for your period flow;
  • alternate tampons with a sanitary towel or panty liners during your period.


For further information on toxic shock syndrome, see our free, printable advice guide here


When Toxic Shock Syndrome is Ignored

I am pursuing a medical negligence claim on behalf of a three-year-old boy who had both his legs, below the knee, and most of his fingers amputated after doctors failed to spot the signs of toxic shock syndrome.

Reuben Harvey-Smith had accidentally burned himself and was initially treated for the burn. He was taken to hospital two days later when his mum was concerned that he was unwell and dehydrated. Medics in the A and E at Ipswich Hospital diagnosed the symptoms as tonsillitis, despite the known link between the burns and toxic shock syndrome. When Reuben was still unwell days later, his mum, called the burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where doctors immediately suspected toxic shock and advised that they return to Ipswich. Reuben was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome then, and tragically medics were forced to amputate both of his legs below the knee as well as several of his finger tips.

Whilst the Trust have made admissions of liability that all could have been avoided, the Reuben Bear campaign has been created to raise awareness of toxic shock syndrome and how a minor burn could potentially have life-changing consequences if ignored.

For more information on Reuben’s case, and insights from Reuben’s mum, see: Toddler Has Legs And Fingers Amputated After Doctors Fail to Spot Signs of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Acting quickly and receiving an early diagnosis is essential in effectively treating TSS. To do so, it is important to keep in mind the guidance of the Reuben Bear Campaign – especially if you have experienced recent cuts or burns or any of the aforementioned causes of TSS. The Reuben Bear campaign advises people to remember and recognise the signs of TSS with four simple steps:

B for burn – Has the patient suffered recent burns or other injury?

E for Examine – Are there any signs of infection such as a fever, sore throat, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, aching muscles, dizziness or feeling faint?

A for Advice – Toxic Shock Syndrome and sepsis can be life-threatening so if you suspect someone is suffering from either seek medical advice immediately. 

R for Referral – Ask for a referral to a specialist burns unit if you are concerned about TSS.


By raising awareness of toxic shock syndrome, how it is identified and the importance of urgent treatment, hopefully fewer people will suffer the rare but potentially catastrophic effect that can arise from f burns and cuts.

Tim Deeming is a senior clinical and medical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.

For a free consultation about a clinical or medical negligence compensation claim call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

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