Recently there’s been news about a 27 year old who had part of her right leg amputated three years ago after being hospitalized due to complications from toxic shock syndrome, or TSS. After news broke, many women have turned to social media, condemning the use of tampons, and praising the use of other menstrual products that pose very little to no risk for TSS. The victim, Lauren Wasser, is currently suing Kotex with the claim that the illness was the result of using a tampon.
While it is true that tampons have been linked to TSS, the bacterial infection doesn’t only occur in women, and tampons are not actually the cause.
What causes TSS?
A specific strain of staph bacteria (staphylococcus aureus) must be present in the vaginal flora to contract TSS. If it is present, the staph can multiply in a tampon’s absorbent layers, producing a very harmful toxin, TSS.
How many people are staph carriers?
About 20 percent of the population have the bacteria on their skin, and more have it in their nose according to a 2011 study. Experts are unsure how many women have it present in their vaginal flora.
Should I get tested while at my next gyno appointment?
No. Vaginal flora changes throughout your cycle, so you would need regular ongoing cultures to check for it, which is not necessary for prevention.
How many annual cases of TSS are linked to tampon use?
In 2014, there were 59 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there have been 26 in 2015 so far. TSS can also occur due to skin infections, burns, nosebleeds that require packing, after childbirth, or surgery according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The exact number of cases that have been specifically linked to tampon use is unknown. However, the NIH estimates that about half are menstruation related. It is a very rare event, considering the millions of women who use tampons everyday.
What are the symptoms of TSS?
Symptoms include high fever, rash, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea, confusion, low blood pressure, and if left untreated, multiple organ failure (usually the kidneys and liver). If you start feeling lightheaded, ready to pass out, experience vomiting and have a high fever within a few days of your period, you might want to see a doctor.
How can you prevent TSS?
Gynecologists recommend using the lowest absorbency you can. Terms like light, regular, super and super plus are the standard, so shooting for regular and light would be best for women with a normal to light flow. It doesn’t matter if the tampon is made of synthetic or natural fibers.
If the possibility of being at risk for TSS is too much, there are always other options available for use on the regular market. From menstrual cups, sea sponges, and reusable pads, it is very likely you will find a product that works with your body’s natural flow. No matter what products you use, always remember it is better to change your product maximum every 4-6 hours. Better safe than sorry, for your health.