Toxic Shock is caused by toxins released by rare strains (sub-types) of either of two common bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph“) or Streptococcus pyogenes (“Strep“). Shock, when blood doesn’t circulate, is diagnosed by low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, poor capillary refill, and maybe cold, clammy skin. “Toxic” means it’s caused by toxins, not blood loss or other causes. Shock of any cause is often fatal.
Staph toxic shock was first recognized around 1980, when women using super-absorbent tampons suddenly became deathly ill. The long-use tampons allowed the Staph strain to multiply and release toxin, but the illness can occur if the same strain causes infection elsewhere in the body. A red sunburn-like rash and muscle aches may also occur, but fever & shock are the major features; the shock can develop rapidly. Treatment requires immediate IV fluids and antibiotics.
Strep toxic shock looks just like Staph, with fever and shock. The sunburn-like rash is less common, and may feel roughish. There may be bright red painful red skin where the germ infected the body. The condition used to be common right after childbirth, but that’s very rare now. Treatment requires immediate IV fluids & antibiotics.