I first heard of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) in my late teens. I was still living in Israel, my country of origin, when my friend Sheila, a young American woman who recently emigrated to Israel, spoke about how it was possible to die of using tampons!
This was shocking (no pun intended) since neither my Mom, nor any of my friends, have ever heard of TSS. At the time everyone I knew was into the convenience of using tampons. Except me, that is, who couldn’t use them since my Mom was worried of a tampon piercing my hymen…
Looking back, Sheila didn’t give me a whole lot of information. She may have not had much herself. What I remember mostly is fear, and something about not leaving a tampon inside you for too long.
My next memory is from my early twenties. By that time I was already using tampons, since I’ve “lost” my virginity. Funnily, starting to use tampons felt almost like a bigger deal to me than my first sexual experience… The use of tampons, which was a “forbidden fruit” for quite a few years, seemed to me to be the epitome of “having arrived” to womanhood…
On that particular day I was on the beach, vacationing with my Dad and my brother. Upon going to the bathroom to change a tampon I discovered, to my young horror, that it started to split. Some of the tampon fiber stayed inside me. Remembering Sheila’s warning I was paralyzed with the thought that I could die from having these fibers in me, having tried unsuccessfully to pull them out. I thought I should go to the emergency room, but had no way of getting there by myself. There was only my Dad to turn to, as my Mom had died the year before. I remember not knowing what was worse: the risk of dying from some shock syndrome I knew nothing about, or the need to speak about tampons with my Dad…
Dad was understanding and supportive, as was the ER doctor, and the matter sank into oblivion until recently, when I realized women DO die of TSS, and I had hardly any information about it! Having been a Menstrual Empowerment Educator for some 20 years, my own lack of education on the subject felt embarrassing to me…
Not only did I not know that women still die of TSS, but I had no comprehensive information about symptoms, risk factors, or prevention. I’ve set to fill up this gap, and to spread the word among as many women and girls as possible. Education, as we all know, is power!
I found out how real TSS still is, by learning of Amy Elifritz, a healthy 20 years old, who died of TSS on June 13, 2010.
Amy’s mother, Lisa Elifritz, set out to educate women and girls worldwide about the risks and how to avoid them, by founding the non-profit organization ‘You ARE Loved.’
The organization’s opening statement is this: “TSS is real, it’s common, and it kills. 1 in 700 women will get tampon related TSS in their lifetime. It’s estimated that nationwide 5,000 to 10,000 cases of staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome now occur each year, making it as common as Lyme disease. TSS can strike any woman or girl without warning and can act so rapidly that more fatalities among tampon users are inevitable.” This is a sobering and thought provoking statement.
Lets take a look at the ‘You ARE Loved’ brochure:
“The Bottom Line –
If you have been using tampons and you experience flu-like symptoms and a fever, remove your tampon and go to the hospital immediately. Insist on getting blood work. If it is caught early enough, you have a much better chance of survival. Your Life Depends On It!”
“What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome develops when the common bacteria, Staphylococcus Aureus, produce a toxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The toxin rapidly overwhelms the immune system and attacks the major organs, leading to kidney failure, collapse of the lungs and in severe cases, cardiac arrest. Alarmingly, half of all known cases of Toxic Shock are women using TAMPONS.”
“Symptoms of TSS –
* Sore throat.
* Aching muscles
* High temperature; over 102F
* 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”
“After Effects of TSS?
Survivors of Toxic Shock Syndrome may have been hospitalized for weeks and there is usually a long recovery period. They may have suffered:
* Loss of fingers and toes due to gangrene.
* Permanent kidney and liver damage.
* Deafness and blindness.
* Peeling skin, and loss of nails and hair.
* Continual infections
* Short term memory loss.
* No energy for months or even years.
* Psychological and emotional distress.”
“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.
* Read and keep this information leaflet or the leaflet inside the tampon packet.
* If you’ve ever had TSS, NEVER – EVER use tampons again!”
Being an all-or-nothing gal myself, I wonder why would any woman want to take the risk and continue using tampons at all?
I stopped using tampons (or any disposable menstrual products) some 17 years ago, as part of my journey of reclaiming menstruation. Using menstrual cloth pads has been a consciousness-altering experience that helped me shift form seeing menstruation as “the curse” (like my Grandma called it) to experiencing it as a deepening into my inner well-spring.
And we haven’t yet mentioned the environmental impact that would be saved by moving away from tampons and disposables, which are the number 2 cloggers of land-fills (following closely behind disposable diapers).
Learning of the real risks of TSS associated with tampon-use, I am given yet another reason for not using them. But for women who like the convenience of it, I recommend getting educated. It can truly save your life!
To find out more about TSS, go to: www.you-are-loved.org