Toxic Shock Syndrome & You ARE Loved


If you are a biological woman like me, when you went through puberty and selected the products you would use to manage your monthly cycle, tampons were presented as just another harmless option. You might have read something in small print on one of the boxes about Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS. Maybe you remember seeing the warning on the back of a box in your bathroom. If you are like me, you assumed that this mysterious disease really doesn’t apply to you in the modern world. I, for one, had never personally heard of any cases of TSS. I also had this vague idea that it was associated with poor bodily hygiene or not changing the tampon frequently enough.

When I blogged about switching to cloth pads recently, I was contacted by an organization I had never heard of — You ARE Loved. The name doesn’t really indicate what they were about, but the ARE is the initials of Amy Rae Elifritz, a 20 year old woman who died suddenly from TSS on June 13, 2010 {read Amy’s story}. The organization was started by Amy’s mother Lisa to help raise awareness of this disease.

What they told me was surprising. Did you know that 1 in 700 women will contract TSS? And that it is often deadly? It is frequently misdiagnosed and mistaken for the flu until the toxicity levels are lethal. I had no idea! I’m glad to be working with this brand-new nonprofit to help them raise awareness of the symptoms and future avoidance of this disease.

First of all, here are the symptoms to watch out for while you are using tampons (view the brochure here):

Symptoms of TSS 
  • Sore throat. 
  • Aching muscles 
  • High temperature; over 102F 
  • Vomiting 
  • Headache 
  • Watery diarrhea 
  • Red rash 
  • Confusion 
  • Dizziness 
  • Very low blood pressure

Only one or two symptoms may occur.
They do not necessarily occur all at once and may not persist

Did you catch that? This disease could be easily missed!

How can you prevent 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 a TSS information leaflet or the leaflet inside the tampon packet.

The reason traditional tampons cause toxicity issues is the viscose. Organic cotton tampons avoid most of this risk.

Dr. Greg Smith, Director of Education for YAL provided this information:

Only women who use traditional tampons (brands like Kotex, OB, Playtex, & Tampax) are at risk.  We would like every woman to be aware that she has additional options that do not carry the same risk for TSS.  If women opt to continue using traditional tampons then we would hope they do so with a real awareness of TSS and especially its symptoms.  If symptoms develop, early treatment can be life saving.   Women who continue use should know that tweens, teens and those in their early 20s are at greatest risk.  Also, they should review the brochure for basic steps to reduce risk.
At issue is one ingredient: viscose rayon.  For women who prefer tampons to other feminine hygiene options, there are a variety of choices that are 100% cotton/organic (brands like Maxim, Natracare and Seventh Generation).  Dr.  Philip Tierno, a world renowned TSS expert and Clinical Professor of Microbiology and Pathology at the NYU School of Medicine, has been researching tampon related TSS for over a generation and is on the record as saying that to the best of his knowledge there has never been a case of TSS in any women who exclusively use cotton tampons.
There is also no risk of TSS with any pad: disposable or reusable.  There is no known association with any Cup: disposable or reusable.  The largest manufacturer of disposable cups, Instead Softcup, proudly claims 100 million sold with no association with TSS.

What can you do?
My takeaways are, obviously, to do the things listed above in “How Can You Prevent TSS“.

But also, make sure you are looking out for the symptoms in yourself and others. Print out a pamphlet (PDF) and keep it somewhere nearby so that if you or someone you know is admitted to the hospital during the menstrual cycle and have been using tampons, you can alert medical personnel.

YAL also needs our help in donations toward printing brochures. Since they are a new nonprofit, they have no staff or overhead yet. All they need is to print brochures and pass them out! You can donate any small amount by clicking their Donate button and it will be appreciated!

I want to thank YAL for contacting me and I hope this information can help women!

4 thoughts on “Toxic Shock Syndrome & You ARE Loved

  1. L.M. Fleming says:

    I remember a girl in the dorms with me in college having to take months off because of how sick she got from TSS. Before that, I had only thought it a random thing, something they list on the box to warn you because they’re required by law, not something people actually got, and if you did you were “dirty” and had left your tampon in for days. The combination of seeing my classmate so sick and reading the book Cunt, which discusses the money made by large corporations ran by men off of women “sanitary” products, made me switch to reusable cup devices and organic tampons. I’ve recently branched out into other alternative products like sea sponges and Glad Rags and I’m doing a review on my site. I’ll let you know when that comes up and I’ll definitely link to You Are Loved.

  2. conscientious says:

    I’d love to hear about the sea sponge option – that sounds amazing! If I somehow miss your review, remind me and I’ll post the link on my FB page!

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