Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

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Like many young women, I started menstruating at 13 years old. Although I was aware that my period would likely start soon, it was still slightly frightening to find brown spots in my panties as a 7th grader. I immediately told the nurse that I was feeling sick and went home - sounds drastic but I didn’t want to risk the trauma of actually “leaking” at school and being humiliated. Instead of calling my mother, I took matters into my own hands and went directly to her stash of tampons and without hesitation inserted one to handle the situation. I am not sure why I didn’t share the news with her but when I finally did we took a trip together to the pharmacy and I got my own supplies. I know my experience is an uncommon one, most young girls will reach for a pad before tampons but I just couldn’t fathom using those bulky contraptions - back in the day we did not have pads with “wings” nor were they thin. Using tampons was the best thing in my opinion and pads were limited to use only when necessary.

Shortly after my period began, news of Toxic Shock Syndrome hit the airways. According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of bacterial infection. It has been historically associated with the use of superabsorbent tampons and occasionally with the use of contraceptive sponges. Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.”

Scary! But even armed with the knowledge that TSS could kill, I still stuck to using tampons. I tried to be hyper-vigilant about changing my tampons but there was one instance when I actually left a tampon in my vaginal canal. I’m sure some of you may be thinking that is ridiculous -- but it happened. I’m not sure if it was one of the times that I used two tampons, (don’t do this at home kids, my periods were very heavy and in order to stay in class I’d do whatever it took to keep from running to the bathroom every hour), but one was stuck. I was lucky because I didn’t develop TSS, I actually just had a horrendous odor from my vaginal area and visited the gyn quickly to remedy the problem. I have to say it was the most embarrassing moment of my life to have my doctor extract a tampon but it potentially saved my life, which is why I share this story today.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a lucky as I was.

According to WebMD, “More than a third of all cases of toxic shock involve women under 19, and up to 30% of women who have had the disease will suffer a recurrence.”

In June 2010, 20 year old Amy Rae Elifritz  lost her life to tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome. She succumbed to the infection in less than a week and in her memory, the organization You Are Loved was formed.

The mission of You Are Loved is to raise awareness about this life threatening disease. Although super absorbent tampons have been removed from the market and we don’t hear about TSS as much as we used to, it remains a killer.

Amy's mother, Lisa Elifritz uses her website You Are Loved to document stories of women who have experienced TSS and lists the signs and symptoms of the infection which include:

- Flu like symptoms

- sore throat

- aching muscles

- high fever

-diarrhea

- rash

- low blood pressure

If you or someone you know is currently or recently menstruating and experiencing one or more of these symptoms, visit a doctor immediately! If you would like to support the efforts of You Are Loved, visit their website, share a story, write a blog post or donate. And if you are like me and continue to use tampons, be sure to change them every 4 - 6 hours and be advised that there has never been a case of TSS from the use of cotton tampons. Making the switch can help prevent this disease.

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