The Grapevine

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome? Former Gymnast Loses Limbs To Life-Threatening Condition

While toxic shock syndrome is rare, the consequences of this condition can be overwhelming. In a recent case, it was only a matter of days for a northern Indiana woman who experienced a rapid and significant decline in health.

Anna Norquist, 30, was a "perfectly healthy" gymnastics coach. However, what started out as a series of flu-like symptoms earlier this month turned out to be a life-threatening case of toxic shock syndrome or TSS. Undergoing ten surgeries at Methodist Hospital, Norquist had to have her right arm and left leg amputated in her fight against TSS. Her left hand is set to be removed soon, whenever she is stable enough for the procedure.

"She has had compartmental surgery on both of her arms and both of her legs. She is sliced open from head to toe. At best, she will have multiple surgeries and multiple amputations," stated the GoFundMe page set up by her family.

Basically, TSS can be described as a severe complication arising from an infection of either staph or strep bacteria. As you may know, it is often brought up as a potential risk with the use of tampons. If worn for too long, these products can lead to tiny tears in the vagina which may introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. 

Back in the 1980s, the sale of highly-absorbent tampons was believed to contribute to a rise in cases of TSS. Eventually, these tampons were removed from the market, which reportedly decreased the incidence of the condition.

But keep in mind that menstruating women are not the only ones who can be affected. Experts note that anyone can experience toxic shock if exposed to these bacteria, which can also happen with open wounds, severe burns, during recovery from surgery, and other such scenarios.

Even in the case of Norquist, tampons were not involved. "They don’t know and probably will never know exactly where the infection entered," her father told Fox 59. "They think it was the right arm and that’s probably why they took it first."

Though dangerous, TSS is quite rare, estimated to affect 0.8 to 3.4 people per 100,000 in the United States. But to ensure safety, tampon users are still advised to strictly follow instructions on the duration of use. It also helps to know the signs of TSS so you can detect it as early as possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu-like symptoms such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea are common. The affected person may also experience rashes, skin peeling, low blood pressure, severe pain in the muscles, abnormal discharge from the eyes or vagina, and feel noticeably disoriented.