Toxic Shock Syndrome and Tampons: Be Careful!

· February 28, 2019
Toxic Shock Syndrome is produced by bacteria that usually grows in moist environments. It can have fatal consequences if not discovered in time.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is nothing new, and despite efforts to prevent it, it continues taking lives in many places around the world.

It’s a serious disease caused by toxins that the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus produces. Its its proliferation is linked to feminine hygiene products such as tampons.

Even though it’s not that common, it’s dangerous. What’s more, there have been some shocking cases in recent years with terrible consequences.

One of the most high profile cases involved the American model Lauren Wasser. She lost a leg as a result of this disease.

The 27-year-old began a legal battle against Kotex Natural Balance for the infection that almost cost her her life.

Some argue us that less than half of the reported cases result exclusively from tampon use. Yet there are still strict recommendations against it.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

A tampon standing up on its base.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a grave and sometimes deadly affliction that bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes produce. The abnormal growth of such bacteria produce a toxin powerful enough to lead to septic death.

It can affect anybody, but the first identified cases were in women who had used tampons during menstruation.

Microbiologist Philip Tierno and his team discovered this issue in the 1980s. They determined that the conditions provided by synthetic material to bacteria were to blame.

Many of these materials are no longer permitted for industrial use, but the disease continues to be a problem as related cases continue being reported.

It’s worth noting that the majority of TSS cases are also related to other circumstances, such as some surgical procedures, and not tampon use during menstruation alone.

Also read: Clotting During Your Period: 5 Things You Should Know

Why is tampon use related to Toxic Shock Syndrome?

A woman with a tampon in her hand.

As of yet, there is no completely proven link between tampon use and toxic shock syndrome, even though multiple cases in recent decades may serve as evidence.

Bacteriologists and infectious disease experts suggest that given the capacity that these products can absorb and their placement in the vagina, the staphylococcus increase the production of toxins and these toxins have the perfect conditions to grow.

This also brings a higher concentration of oxygen to the area, which increases risk of infection.

That’s why it’s advised to use this product following strict precautions and always choosing the lowest level of absorption. 

Under no circumstance should the same tampon be used for more than eight hours.

What are the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

The most common cluster of symptoms is a general sense of discomfort with high fever, confusion, and dizziness.

As it proceeds, blood pressure decreases, skin alterations appear and vomiting and diarrhea become frequent.

Given its sudden and unexpected onset, it can lead to serious consequences. Some examples of these are kidney deficiency, liver disease, and heart problems.

Cases not quickly treated often lead to death.

What treatments are available?

Toxic shock syndrome can lead to hospitalization.

The general treatment of this disease includes administration of liquids and antibiotics capable of stopping the production of toxins.

Medicine to recover vital signs are also used, such as low blood pressure medicine, supportive therapy and fluid recovery, among others. 

If there is an abscess, the area is drained to remove pus.

It’s necessary to keep the patient under medical observation. The doctor should also monitor blood pressure, respiration and organ activity.

Visit this article: 6 Natural Remedies for Alleviating Low Blood Pressure

What precautions can I take?

A woman with a flower on her navel.

Infections from tampons aren’t common, but no one is exempt from them, especially if you don’t use them correctly.

  • Don’t use them for more than 8 hours. In fact, it’s best to change them every 4 or 5 hours.
  • If menstruation is heavy, the best options are feminine pads or a menstrual cup.
  • You should only use tampons for special situations. For example, use them when you’re at the beach, during physical activity, or when using certain clothing.
  • The ideal type is the low-absorption type. That’s because the more fluid they absorb, the higher the risk of illness.
  • Tampons should be kept in a cool, dry place to avoid bacterial growth.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is an illness that requires immediate attention. Otherwise, the consequences can be fatal.

Experts recommend that you seek medical attention immediately if you’re experiencing symptoms of this disorder. That’s especially true if you believe you’re exposed to the risk factors.

Tyll, T., Bílková, M., Revinová, A., Müller, M., Čurdová, M., Zlámal, M., & Holub, M. (2015). Toxic shock syndrome. Epidemiologie, Mikrobiologie, Imunologie.

Berkley, S. F., Hightower, A. W., Broome, C. V., & Reingold, A. L. (1987). The Relationship of Tampon Characteristics to Menstrual Toxic Shock Syndrome. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1987.03400070055034

Kare, M., & Dang, A. (2008). Staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome. Journal of Association of Physicians of India.

Gikas, P. D., Moore, P. C. L., & Rhodes, A. (2004). Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. Clinical Intensive Care. https://doi.org/10.1080/09563070400003680

McCormick, J. K., Yarwood, J. M., & Schlievert, P. M. (2002). Toxic Shock Syndrome and Bacterial Superantigens: An Update. Annual Review of Microbiology. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.micro.55.1.77