Toxic Shock Syndrome: a time to seek legal advice?

Kate Campbell-Gunn specialises in personal injury and medical negligence matters at The Wilkes Partnership. The nature of her work means that she only becomes aware of a client’s situation when things have deteriorated to a point where it has become necessary to seek legal advice. Here, Kate shares her experience of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and offers some wise words on dealing with this life-threatening condition.

Kate says “I should start by saying that TSS is rare, but that means that diagnosing and treating it early enough to save a life can be a challenge, even for experienced medical professionals”.

TSS is caused by bacteria entering the body and releasing harmful toxins. It’s often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age, including men and children. Once contracted, the condition deteriorates very quickly and can be fatal if not treated promptly. Fortunately, early diagnosis and treatment sees most people make a full recovery.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 39C (102.2F) or above
  • confusion
  • flu-like symptoms such as a headache, chills, muscle aches, a sore throat and a cough
  • diarrhoea
  • sunburn-like rash
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness and fainting
  • the whites of the eyes, lips and tongue turning a bright red
  • breathing difficulties
  • drowsiness.

Kate continues “TSS is a medical emergency. While these symptoms could be due an illness other than TSS, it’s important to contact your GP, local out of hours’ service, or NHS 111 as soon as possible if you have a combination of any of these symptoms. If the symptoms are severe or deteriorate rapidly, go to your nearest A&E or call 999 for an ambulance”.

“Giving your doctor as much information as you can is essential to help them make a speedy and accurate diagnosis. If you’re using a tampon when the symptoms strike you should remove it immediately, but you must tell your doctor if you’ve been using one. Likewise, tell them if you have recently suffered a burn or skin injury, or if you have a skin infection such as a boil. If they suspect TSS you should be referred to hospital immediately”.

If TSS is confirmed you’ll be admitted to hospital and may need to be treated in an intensive care unit. Treatment may involve:

  • antibiotics to treat the infection
  • in some cases, pooled immunoglobulin (purified antibodies taken out of donated blood from many people) may also be given to fight the infection
  • oxygen to help with breathing
  • fluids to help prevent dehydration and organ damage
  • medication to help control blood pressure
  • dialysis if the kidneys stop functioning
  • in severe cases, surgery to remove any dead tissue. It may be necessary to amputate an affected area but this is very rare.

Commenting on the treatment, Kate said: “Most people will start to feel better within a few days once treatment starts, but it may be several weeks before they’re well enough to leave hospital. It’s worth remembering that you don’t develop immunity to TSS so you can get it more than once, but isn’t spread from person to person”.

TSS is caused by either Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria which live harmlessly on the skin or in the nose or mouth. However, if they get deeper into the body they can release toxins that damage tissue and stop organs working. You could be at an increased risk of developing TSS if you:

  • use tampons, particularly if you leave them in for longer than recommended or use “super-absorbent” tampons
  • use female barrier contraceptives, such as a contraceptive diaphragm or cap
  • break your skin, such as a cut, burn, boil, insect bite or surgical wound
  • give birth
  • use nasal packing to treat a nosebleed
  • have a staphylococcal infection or streptococcal infection such as a throat infection, impetigo or cellulitis.

When you’re aware of the risks that can lead to a TSS diagnosis, there are things you can do to minimise the possibility of contracting it:

  • treat wounds and burns quickly and get medical advice if you develop signs of an infection, such as swelling, redness or increasing pain
  • always use a tampon with the lowest absorbency suitable for your menstrual flow
  • alternate tampons with a sanitary towel or panty liners during your period
  • wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon
  • change tampons regularly, as often as directed on the pack (usually at least every four to eight hours)
  • never insert more than one tampon at a time
  • if you’re using a tampon at night, insert a fresh tampon before going to bed and remove it on waking
  • remove a tampon at the end of your period
  • if you’re using female barrier contraception, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about how long you can leave it in place
  • avoid using tampons or female barrier contraception if you’ve had TSS before.

Kate Campbell-Gunn is an Associate Solicitor in the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence team at the Wilkes Partnership who has dealt with claims involving delayed diagnosis of TSS and secured settlements for her clients for the failure to detect TSS in a timely manner. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed here, contact Kate on 0121 733 4314 or at [email protected] for a free, no obligation chat about your options. Kate works on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. She can assess a possible claim early on to ascertain if there are prospects of success in a potential TSS claim.

Article written by Kate-Campbell-Gunn

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