Open Access Research article

Persistence survey of Toxic Shock Syndrome toxin-1 producing Staphylococcus aureus and serum antibodies to this superantigen in five groups of menstruating women

Jeffrey Parsonnet1, Melanie A Hansmann3*, Jon L Seymour3, Mary L Delaney2, Andrea M DuBois2, Paul A Modern1, Michaelle B Jones3, John E Wild4 and Andrew B Onderdonk2

Author Affiliations

1 Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA

2 Channing Laboratory, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 181 Longwood Ave, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

3 The Procter & Gamble Company, 6010 Center Hill Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

4 Hill Top Research Inc., Main & Mill St., Miamiville, Ohio, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:249  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-249

Published: 23 August 2010



Menstrual Toxic Shock Syndrome (mTSS) is thought to be associated with the vaginal colonization with specific strains of Staphylococcus aureus TSST-1 in women who lack sufficient antibody titers to this toxin. There are no published studies that examine the seroconversion in women with various colonization patterns of this organism. Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate the persistence of Staphylococcus aureus colonization at three body sites (vagina, nares, and anus) and serum antibody to toxic shock syndrome toxin-producing Staphylococcus aureus among a small group of healthy, menstruating women evaluated previously in a larger study.


One year after the completion of that study, 311 subjects were recalled into 5 groups. Four samples were obtained from each participant at several visits over an additional 6-11 month period: 1) an anterior nares swab; 2) an anal swab; 3) a vagina swab; and 4) a blood sample. Gram stain, a catalase test, and a rapid S. aureus-specific latex agglutination test were performed to phenotypically identify S. aureus from sample swabs. A competitive ELISA was used to quantify TSST-1 production. Human TSST-1 IgG antibodies were determined from the blood samples using a sandwich ELISA method.


We found only 41% of toxigenic S. aureus and 35.5% of non-toxigenic nasal carriage could be classified as persistent. None of the toxigenic S. aureus vaginal or anal carriage could be classified as persistent. Despite the low persistence of S. aureus colonization, subjects colonized with a toxigenic strain were found to display distributions of antibody titers skewed toward higher titers than other subjects. Seven percent (5/75) of subjects became seropositive during recall, but none experienced toxic shock syndrome-like symptoms.


Nasal carriage of S. aureus appears to be persistent and the best predicator of subsequent colonization, whereas vaginal and anal carriage appear to be more transient. From these findings, it appears that antibody titers in women found to be colonized with toxigenic S. aureus remained skewed toward higher titers whether or not the colonies were found to be persistent or transient in nature. This suggests that colonization at some point in time is sufficient to elevate antibody titer levels and those levels appear to be persistent. Results also indicate that women can become seropositive without experiencing signs or symptoms of toxic shock syndrome.