Toxic shock syndrome in children: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, and management

Yu Yu Chuang, Yhu Chering Huang, Tzou Yien Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

63 Citations (Scopus)


Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an acute, toxin-mediated illness, like endotoxic shock, and is characterized by fever, rash, hypotension, multiorgan involvement, and desquamation. TSS reflects the most severe form of the disease caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. A case definition for staphylococcal TSS was well established in the early 1980s and helped in defining the epidemiology. Since the late 1980s, a resurgence of highly invasive streptococcal infections, including a toxic shock-like syndrome, was noted worldwide and a consensus case definition for streptococcal TSS was subsequently proposed in 1993. Both TSS and the toxic shock-like syndrome occur at a lower incidence in children than in adults. Changes in the manufacturing and use of tampons led to a decline in staphylococcal TSS over the past decade, while the incidence of nonmenstrual staphylococcal TSS increased. Nonmenstrual TSS and menstrual TSS are now reported with almost equal frequency. The incidence of streptococcal TSS remains constant after its resurgence, but varies with geographic location. Streptococcal TSS occurs most commonly following varicella or during the use of NSAIDs. Sites of infection in streptococcal TSS are much deeper than in staphylococcal TSS, such as infection caused by blunt trauma, and necrotizing fasciitis. Bacteremia is more common in streptococcal TSS than in staphylococcal TSS. Mortality associated with streptococcal TSS is 5-10% in children, much lower than in adults (30-80%), and is 3-5% for staphylococcal TSS in children. TSS is thought to be a superantigen-mediated disease. Toxins produced by staphylococci and streptococci act as superantigens that can activate the immune system by bypassing the usual antigen-mediated immune-response sequence. The host-pathogen interaction, virulence factors, and the absence or presence of host immunity determines the epidemiology, clinical syndrome, and outcome. Early recognition of this disease is important, because the clinical course is fulminant and the outcome depends on the prompt institution of therapy. Management of a child with TSS includes hemodynamic stabilization and appropriate antimicrobial therapy to eradicate the bacteria. Supportive therapy, aggressive fluid resuscitation, and vasopressors remain the main elements. An adjuvant therapeutic strategy may include agents that can block superantigens, such as intravenous immunoglobulin that contains superantigen neutralizing antibodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-25
Number of pages15
JournalPediatric Drugs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pharmacology

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