Toxic Shock Syndrome
What is it?
TSS is a rare disease that mainly strikes menstruating women who areusing tampons. About 15 women out of every 100,000 menstruating women comedown with TSS. It is caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus.Scientists don't exactly know how all of this works yet, but somehow thecombination of a tampon in a warm vagina is the perfect place for thisbacteria to live and multiply. This bacteria lets off toxins or poisons,and these get into a woman's bloodstream and make her very sick. If ita bad case goes untreated the woman could die or suffer permanent effects.
Menstruating women are not the only people who can get TSS, men, childrenand women who are not having their periods sometimes get TSS for otherreasons, but most TSS cases are found in women using tampons. Women under30, and especially women between 15 to 19 are at the most risk becausethey have not yet developed any resistance to the toxins. Older women whohave used tampons for years may develop some immunity because they havebeen exposed to small doses over time.
What are its symptoms?
- A high fever - over 102 degrees
- Sore throat and aching muscles
- A rash that looks like sunburn, especially on the hands and feet
- Dizziness or fainting - a drop in blood pressure
If you have any of these symptoms while wearing a tampon take it outimmediately and call a doctor. Tell them you have been using tampons andyou think you have TSS.
The symptoms are very much like flu symptoms, so it might be temptingto just wait and see if its the flu, or if it will go away. But if youare having your period and using tampons take these symptoms very seriously.TSS moves so fast that an overnight delay could be fatal.
What happens if you get TSS?
The sooner you get treatment, the better. TSS moves through your bodyquickly. Your doctor can do a test to see if the bacteria is present inyour vagina. For a mild case of TSS, you might just have to go to bed anddrink lots of fluids. If its a severe case, you will have to be hospitalized.Again, TSS can be fatal and needs serious attention.
When TSS is in its advanced stages, it is a really ugly disease. UntilI started researching it, I thought that if you had bad TSS you just hada really high fever and went into a coma or something. The truth is scary,but something you should know.
Your blood pressure goes down, which puts your body into shock. Yourskin will shed, as if you have been badly burned. You might experiencerespiratory failure (you can't breath for yourself) or kidney failure (yourkidneys stop cleaning your blood). Because your blood is not circulatingwell, the cells in your fingers and toes (the parts of your body whichare farthest away from your heart) will start to die from lack of oxygen,and if a lot of the cells die, you could loose parts of your fingers andtoes, or entire fingers and toes. This is the same kind of thing that happenswhen people get bad frostbite.
The after effects of a case of TSS are serious too. Women who have surviveda bad case may loose their hair and fingernails, have double vision, headaches,deafness, or arthritis for months or even years.
Now that you are scared to death...
How Do You Prevent TSS?
Obviously, you can choose not to wear tampons, or use other internalproducts like sea sponges.
However, using tampons wisely can give you much better odds of stayinghealthy. There are two things you should think about each time you usea tampon: its absorbancy (how much fluid it can hold) and length of timeit will be in you.
The more absorbant a tampon is, the more dangerous it is. Some peoplethink the reason for this is that more absorbant tampons are made of ablend of cotton and rayon. Plain cotton seems to be safe, but artificialfibers like rayon have been known to cause trouble (see History, below).
Tampax's Original Regular are 100 percent cotton, and may be one ofthe safest big brand tampons you can wear. Health food stores sell tampons100 percent cotton and also bleached in environmentally friendly ways.
There are now charts on all tampon boxes which show the absorbancy levelsof the different sizes of tampons. Choose a tampon size that is the minimumthat you need for your flow. In other words, a super-plus tampon mightbe fine if you will bleed through it in a few hours, but a tampon shouldn'tbe used as a plug you can leave in all day long.
Which leads me to the second important point:
Don't wear tampons for a long time. The best thing to do is to alternatebetween using tampons and pads. At the very least, use smaller tamponsand change them more often. Never go to bed wearing a tampon (wear a padinstead), or wear the same tampon all day long. Now, if your flow is verylight, you will notice that it is hard to change tampons because they aresort of dry. This isn't very good for you either, so you might just wantto wear a mini pad on those light days.
By using lower absorbancy tampons, changing tampons frequently, andtaking breaks from tampons at some point each day, you can make it veryhard for that bacteria to cause you any trouble. Remember, as a new tamponuser, you have the least defenses against the bacteria, so try to be careful.
The history of tampons and TSS
Tampons were invented in the 1930's, and at that time they were madeof compressed cotton. But they leaked when they were soaked through, sotampon manufactures began to experiment with materials which would makea better (more absorbant), tampon. They found their answer in syntheticfibers. Proctor & Gamble wanted to make a leak - proof tampon. Theysucceeded by using a blend of synthetic fibers which included polyestersponges and chips of carboxy-methyl-cellulose. They called their new tamponRELY and put it on store shelves in 1975. This encouraged an "absorbancyrace" among other tampon manufacturers. So by 1980 the market wasfull of new super absorbant tampons. Reports of TSS began to flood in duringthe spring and summer of 1980, and all tampon brands were implicated, butparticularly RELY. Somehow the swelling of the synthetic fibers made anideal growing place for the bacteria. Maybe it also was due to the thefact that women didn't change these tampons as much.
By 1981 absorbancy was found to be the key risk factor in tampon relatedTSS. Any high absorbancy tampon was proved to increase a woman's risk ofgetting TSS. Playtex's Super Plus was deemed a "high risk" tampon.Following the TSS breakout, Tambrands (makers of Tampax) reissued the saferall cotton Original Regular style, but retained super absorbant ingredientsin its other models.
In 1985 the family of Betty Ogilvie, a woman who had died from TSS,won their lawsuit against International Playtex. They were awarded elevenmillion dollars, because the jury found that Playtex had shown recklessdisregard for women's lives by continuing to make the super high abosorbancytampons when it was known that they were a major cause of TSS.
Now the big tampon companies are using a cotton/rayon blend for theirproducts instead of the very dangerous super-absorbant materials. The highestabsorbancy per tampon is now 6 -15 grams of fluid compared to the 10 -20 gram range they had achieved with the super-absorbants.