Toxic Shock Syndrome: Still a Timely Diagnosis

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Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an acute, severe, toxin-mediated disease, characterized by fever, hypotension, and multiorgan system involvement. Toxic shock syndrome has made headlines because of its high associated morbidity and mortality rate in previously healthy young females. Incidence peaked in the early 1980s owing to increased usage of ultra-absorbent tampons. After improved patient education and tampon labeling, the incidence of menstrual TSS has declined.


A previously healthy 14-year-old girl presented to an urgent care center with a 2-day history of fever, erythematous maculopapular rash, vomiting, diarrhea, and malaise. She was found to be tachycardic and hypotensive. Investigations revealed thrombocytopenia, an elevated white count and lactate, and acute kidney injury, consistent with septic shock. Recent tampon usage with menstruation was reported, and a pelvic examination revealed purulent vaginal discharge. The patient was transferred to a pediatric intensive care unit for antibiotic and vasopressor therapy. Vaginal swabs later tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus and TSS toxin-1.


Although the incidence of TSS has decreased in recent years, it is crucial that clinicians rapidly recognize and treat this life-threatening condition. Emergency physicians should always have a high index of suspicion for TSS in young females presenting without another obvious cause of shock. A pelvic examination should always be completed in these cases.

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