Tampons, hygiene, cotton, and boys with ‘toxic shock’. There’s stigma around toxic shock syndrome, and it isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Toxic shock syndrome is often associated with tampon misuse or a lack of vaginal hygiene. But there is a lot more to this rare, yet extremely dangerous bacterial infection than is commonly understood. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the earliest cases of toxic shock syndrome involved women who used tampons. However, today less than half of the cases are linked to tampon use. Toxic shock syndrome can also occur with skin infections, burns, and after surgery. The condition can also affect children, postmenopausal women, and men.
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an acute septicemia that occurs when toxic forms of bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus bacterium manage to get into the bloodstream and rapidly overwhelm the immune system. These bacteria can enter the bloodstream via surgery, a wound or other type of abrasion and although rare when this infection occurs the consequences can be severe as sufferers often need to be hospitalized to prevent organ failure from the septicemia that ensues. Treatment includes powerful antibiotics being administered intravenously, and sadly many cases of TSS have resulted in fatalities.
When it comes to tampon use, all cases of TSS have been linked to tampons made of viscose rayon and mostly those of the super-absorbent variety, created for heavy flow menstruation. Dr. Philip Tierno, Professor of Microbiology and Pathology at New York University has ascertained that tampons made from 100% cotton are safer to use as they have not been linked to any TSS infections at all.
Hygiene practice and leaving the tampon in for periods of 8 hours or more can contribute to the risk of bacteria, but the frequent exchange of tampons made of synthetic fibers have also been linked to TSS. Infection is believed to occur when these tampons cause micro-abrasions in the vagina, which allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
After 20-year old Amy Elifritz had died from TSS infection, her mother decided to create a website called www.you-are-loved.org to create awareness about TSS and share the stories of TSS survivors. Here are some facts about TSS that you will find on the site:
Symptoms of TSS
- Sore throat
- Aching muscles
- High temperature; over 102 degrees F (38.8 degrees C)
- Watery diarrhea
- Red rash
- Very low blood pressure
Only one or two symptoms may occur. They do not necessarily occur all at once and may not persist.
What You Should Do?
- Remove the tampon (save it if possible)
- Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention
- Inform the doctor that you have been using tampons
- Take a TSS information leaflet with you
To Reduce the Risk of TSS
- Only use tampons made of organic cotton
- Use the lowest absorbency needed at each stage of your period
- Avoid using tampons continuously during a period. Alternate with sanitary pads at night, so the toxins have time to dissipate
- Use a pad at the end of your period
- Change tampons every 4 to 6 hours
- Don’t use tampons if you’ve had any unusual discharge
- Wash your hands before and after use and handle the tampon as little as possible
- Alert your family and friends to the symptoms and emergency action required
- If you’ve had TSS never use tampons again