Tampon use isn’t the only cause of toxic shock syndrome. (Photo: Getty)
Three-year-old Reuben Harvey-Smith first visited the hospital last year after accidentally burning himself at his home. When his mom took him back three days later, doctors said he had tonsillitis, although he actually had a case of potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
The toddler wound up losing both of his legs and seven of his fingers after the misdiagnosis, according to a report in the Sun. Because Harvey-Smith’s amputations would have been preventable had the TSS been caught earlier, his mother, Lou, is now doing everything in her power to raise awareness for a condition you can develop in more ways than you might be aware — some of which are completely unrelated to tampon use.
According to Alejandro Jordan-Villegas, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease expert at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, roughly 50 percent of cases of toxic shock syndrome arise from tampon use and 50 percent can be attributed to other sources. “In the past, TSS was almost always ascribed to menstruation,” he tells Yahoo Beauty. “But you can develop it by way of skin wounds or infections, or if you’ve had recent surgery.”
Toxic shock syndrome develops as a rare complication of a bacterial infection, either from toxins created by the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Men, women, and children who have had recent surgery or a recent deep wound or skin infection should be cognizant of the symptoms. “Look for high fever, skin rash like a sunburn, multi-organ system dysfunction, vomiting, and diarrhea,” Jordan-Villegas says.
Menstruating women still have to be the most aware of TSS, making sure to change tampons frequently. At most, leave a tampon in for just a few hours and use the lowest possible absorbency. But everyone should be getting skin infections and sunburn-like rashes checked out and treated right away. Immediately visit a doctor if you’ve had a recent surgery and start developing symptoms of toxic shock.
Jordan-Villegas says that recurrence of toxic shock syndrome is possible; if you’ve had TSS, or a severe case of staph or strep, don’t use tampons. “Or if you develop the syndrome and it’s treated, doctors can test to see if your blood has the antibody that will reduce the risk of developing it again,” he says. “This will tell you if you can safely use tampons.”
Harvey-Smith’s family has filed a lawsuit against Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, which misdiagnosed him with tonsillitis. According to the Sun, the hospital said in a statement: “We are now working with the family to ensure that lessons are learnt from Reuben’s case and further training has been provided to A&E staff on recognizing the warning signs of septic shock treatment. The Trust are committed to ensuring that Reuben is appropriately compensated so that he has the care, prostheses and equipment that he needs throughout his life.”
The family is trying to move forward. Despite all that her son has been through, Harvey-Smith’s mother still calls him Mr. Positive. “I try not to waste energy getting angry because at the end of the day I’ve still got my son,” she says, “but what I have got to do now is make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”