A mum named Lou Harvey-Smith, from Suffolk, is speaking out about how her now 3-year-old son Reuben contracted the deadly infection Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) – and how its misdiagnosis had serious consequences.
Just last year, Reuben was admitted to A&E at Ipswich Hospital after burning himself. Two days later, Lou returned to the same department after Reuben became ill. He had a fever and sore throat – so was given antibiotics and told he had tonsillitis.
But when a still-concerned Lou rang Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, doctors at the burns unit there suspected he had TSS.
And then 2-year-old Reuben fought for his life – and Lou was told he’d have to undergo an amputation.
“The consultant had tears in her eyes when she told me,” Lou told Sky News.
He had both legs amputated, along with seven of his fingers – which could have been avoided if he’d been diagnosed earlier and given the treatment of antibiotics.
Ipswich Hospital admitted full liability for the late diagnosis, and said in a statement that the family will receive a settlement to cover the costs of prosthetics and other medical expenses throughout Reuben’s life.
And Lou – who affectionately refers to her son as “Mr Positive” – says the 3-year-old has been coping with the adjustment incredibly well.
“He looked at his amputated legs and said ‘poorly feet gone, get new ones’” she says. “He just accepts it and gets on with things. He never gets frustrated.”
Now Lou’s made it her mission to warn mums about the condition.
“I’m speaking out because I want to raise awareness of toxic shock and sepsis,” she told Sky News. “More needs to be done so that the medical profession recognises the link between burns injuries and toxic shock.”
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
TSS is a rare but life-threatening bacterial infection.
It’s caused by a number of different bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and Streptococcus pyogenes (strep). This bacteria lives on the face and is not dangerous unless it gets into the body’s bloodstream, where it is poisonous.
Risk factors including having a skin wound, such as a burn injury, a cut or chickenpox. Having a strep or staph infection can also increase the risk of contracting TSS.
Many mums will already know what TSS is, as it’s often caused by leaving a tampon in for too long.
What’s the difference between Toxic Shock Syndrome and sepsis?
TSS and sepsis are related. The difference is that, as mentioned, TSS is usually caused by a strep or staph infection that produces a toxin which injures many body organs.
Sepsis happens when the body overreacts to an infection, causing exaggerated inflammation and stopping the blood from reaching vital organs.
Only a few types of bacteria cause TSS: many more cause sepsis.
What to look out for
Symptoms of TSS develop incredibly quickly, and according to the NHS, usually start with a high fever (38.9c or higher).
They also include:
- a drop in blood pressure
- a rash (that looks like sunburn)
- muscle pain
Some of the symptoms are harder to spot in young children, who can’t articulate how they’re feeling.
If you suspect your child has Toxic Shock Syndrome, the NHS advises you to see your GP urgently.
The earlier the diagnosis, the greater chance there is for recovery.