What Young Women Need to Know About TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) Have your heard of Toxic Shock Syndrome or TSS? It seems like just 30 years ago everyone knew about the dangers of TSS — what the probable cause of it was and how to avoid getting it. The news filled the airwaves and our television tubes. Laws were passed that required leaflets to be included in menstrual products that had been linked to TSS cases. Dangerous menstrual products were removed from the market. Soon, premature deaths as a result of TSS seemed to altogether disappear. Fast forward to 2016 and you’ll find that in that year alone there were “five reported cases of menstrual-related toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in the state of Michigan.” These are startling statistics and experts are baffled as to why new cases are rising. Experts speculate that despite those inserts in menstrual products that a lack of public awareness may be a big contributor to the spike. What is Toxic Shock Syndrome? The Mayo clinic states that TSS is “a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections.” Two different bacterial infections to be exact: Staphylococcus aureus (or staph for short) and Streptococcus pyogenes (also known as Strep). The high amounts of toxins produced by these bacteria is what causes TSS. Symptoms can include: fever, headaches, seizures, muscle aches, rashes on your palms and soles, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure (hypotension), confusion and/or redness of the eyes, mouth and throat. Staph is often found in the nose, respiratory tract and can even be found on the skin. Staph usually isn’t pathogenic but when an infection does occur it is followed by a gold-colored pus. Strep on the other hand is almost always pathogenic and is also known for causing “flesh-eating disease” or necrotizing fasciitis. If TSS is caused by the Staph bacterium the mortality rate is 5 to 15 percent but for Steph infections the rate jumps up to 30 to 70 percent. What Menstrual Product is Toxic Shock Syndrome Caused By? Remember the five Michigan women we mentioned earlier? All of them were using high absorbency tampons. When TSS cases rose to over 5,000 in the 1970s they were also linked to tampons as well. The Rely tampons to be exact. These tampons were way more absorbent than their predecessors which were mainly comprised of cotton and rayon. Rely, on the other hand, was fully synthetic and was composed entirely of cellulose gum, a water-loving thickener. When left in too long, these bacteria can feast on all the nutrients being shed from the walls of the uterus, multiply and cause TSS. How Can I Avoid Getting TSS? The absolute best way to avoid getting TSS is to avoid using high absorbency tampons in favor of lower absorbency tampons. Of course, an even better measure is to wear sanitary pads and/or period panties. They’re ultra-absorbent panties that help protect you from unexpected leaks so you’re always protected. Period underwear can also be used in conjunction with a tampon so this allows you to use a much safer tampon with a lighter absorbency. If you’re a really heavy bleeder and absolutely can’t live without a high absorbency tampon, make sure you change the tampon at least every 2 hours and do not wear it overnight. This keeps your risk of getting TSS low. This goes for menstrual cup wearers as well since there was one case reported from a menstrual cup user. There has been no definitive study between cup users and TSS, but we like to err on the side of caution. The definitive cause of TSS is still unknown but there are many measures you can take to keep your risk low. Share this with those you love to keep them safe from TSS.