How to Avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome
BY SOPHIE CHUNG
Ever since I got my period at the not-so-ripe age of 12 years old, my mother dearest had always provided pads instead of tampons as my go-to soaking tool.
22 SEP - 2018
Mum believed the body was a temple and didn't trust that a small roll of miscellaneous materials would do the job safely.
As habits die hard, I feel like I'm one of the only women my age who prefer to use pads over tampons. Not only due to my suspicions of what's actually in those white bullets, but also because they tend to exacerbate my ruthless cramps - plus, I find the punctilious time-management of my bathroom activity rather bothersome and bordering stressful.
I've always been a bit iffy about using generic tampons - what kind of chemicals are they soaked in? Are there studies that can inform us of its long-term side effects? And what the hell is this mortifying thing called Toxic Shock Syndrome that has caused some women to own less limbs than they were born with?
In today's article, Vicki Scott, Director of Crimson Organics, gives us the 101 on TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) and how to avoid it. While working with young offenders and the homeless, Vicki became aware of the barriers to accessing period care that so many young women face, and how in turn, that leads to the hindrance of their education.
"There is a vacuum when it comes to information about menstrual health and I would welcome any conversation that enables women to make informed decisions," Vicki says. "Being a newcomer to the market, I have been really disappointed at the lack of transparency from tampon and pad manufacturers and sellers generally. I felt like I had been conned when I discovered what was in the products I had been using for years – why hadn’t we been told? It feels great to be part of the solution and to impart information to women to enable them to make informed decisions," she continues.
By Vicki Scott
Model Lauren Wasser made headlines earlier this year, some six years after having suffered toxic shock syndrom (TSS) from a tampon, which resulted in a near-death experience that led to her right leg being amputated.
In 2017, Ms Wasser announced that her left leg was to be amputated as a way to resolve the ongoing infection and relentless damage that the TSS had caused to her remaining leg, and at the start of this year the operation took place and was deemed a success by surgeons.
Ms Wasser is an extreme example of the damage that TSS can cause, and an unfortunate reminder of the risks of using conventional tampons that contain synthetics and non-organic cotton.
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
TSS is caused by toxins produced by staphylococcus aureus, which is a bacterium that is commonly found on the skin and inside the nose and vagina. Most people have a resistance to this toxin, however if your body does not, then in a “perfect storm” where the toxin is produced in the vagina or a wound, and absorbed into the bloodstream from either of these sources, then you will most likely become ill. In those of us who have developed a resistance, there will be no evidence of any harmful effect.
Who is at risk of TSS?
TSS can appear in women, men and children. The risk of contracting TSS is higher in adolescents and women under 30 years of age who use tampons during their period. The estimated incidence of TSS is of 1 to 17 per 100,000 menstruating women and girls per year. If you don’t use tampons, the risk of TSS is reduced but not entirely eliminated.
What do the experts say?
The world’s leading expert on TSS is microbiologist Dr Philip Tierno, who is a professor at New York University Medical School. Dr Tierno has spent 40 years conducting independent research into TSS, its link to tampons, and the safest use of tampons. His research shows that the two major contributing factors to the development of TSS is 1) tampon composition and 2) the length of time they are left in the body. Dr Tierno believes that the safest tampon is a 100 per cent cotton tampon. In an interview with The Guardian and repeatedly since then, he has said, "the bottom line is that you can get TSS with synthetic tampons but not with an all-cotton tampon."
"Worldwide, there are currently no known cases of TSS that have been associated with organic all-cotton tampons."
3 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome
Dr Tierno suggests menstruating women should use pads because they present the lowest risk of TSS. Of course, this may not be functional or realistic given the demands of your life, so alternating organic, all-cotton tampons with pads or liners can be a healthy routine while you have your period.
While using tampons, Dr Tierno recommends the following:
1. Use an organic all-cotton tampon
Worldwide, there are currently no known cases of TSS that have been associated with organic all-cotton tampons. But beware of imposters! Even if it says 100% certified organic cotton, you still need to read the label. Look for organic certifications by recognised bodies such as GOTS or Biogro. Also be sure to check the constituents or ingredients list, and if it contains “PET” or “polyethelene,” then that means it contains plastic. Note also, if it has a security veil or a twist wrap opening, then it contains synthetics. Disappointingly, some New Zealand companies are misleading women by claiming their products are 100% organic cotton when they actually contain plastic or synthetics.
2. Change your tampon regularly
It’s essential to change your tampon every four to six hours. And yes, if you are going to sleep for longer than six hours, then you should avoid sleeping overnight with a tampon. It’s really important because the longer a tampon is left in your body, the higher the risk of TSS.
3. Avoid super-absorbent tampons and don’t use a tampon of greater absorbency
than your needs
Although TSS can occur with the use of tampons of any absorbency, the risk increases when using tampons that offer higher absorbency. This is because there are typically more chemicals or synthetics required for a conventional tampon to offer greater absorbency.
Other tips for optimal vaginal health include:
1. Washing your hands thoroughly before unwrapping your tampon.
2. Prior to insertion, avoid placing an unwrapped tampon on any surfaces.
3. Only use one tampon at a time.
4. Don’t ever force a tampon into your vagina.
TO FIND OUT MORE… about optimal vaginal health, the benefits of using organic all-cotton tampons, and a highly convenient and innovative tampon delivery service, visit CRIMSON ORGANIC.