Q: I was shocked and frightened by the sudden death of Jim Henson, the Muppets creator, from pneumonia. With all the progress that has been made in the treatment of infections, how could this happen to a healthy young man?
Henson's pneumonia was produced by an exceptionally virulent strain of group A streptococcus, a bacteria best known for causing strep throat. This particular aggressive strain of streptococcus has now been recognized as the cause of a new type of severe illness called toxic shock-like syndrome (TSLS) because of its similarity to toxic shock syndrome, caused by a different bacteria (staphylococcus), that felled young women using very absorbent tampons.
TSLS may begin as a mild sore throat or skin infection that rapidly progresses to a high fever and impaired circulation due to falling blood pressure. The illness can result in death or amputation even in otherwise healthy adults.