Toxic shock syndrome: what you should know about it

Using tampons or other hygiene items during the period is part of everyday life for us women. This practice is hardly questioned – but you should do that as a woman. In the worst case, the use of tampons and the like can lead to bacterial poisoning, which is called toxic shock syndrome. Here we explain what it is and how you can protect yourself from it.

According to statistics , in 2016 almost 15 million women in Germany aged 14 and over used tampons during their period. For us women, changing hygiene items every day during menstruation is part of everyday life. But let’s be honest, not too many women have read the package insert of a tampon package carefully and informed themselves about possible risks. We should think carefully about these possible dangers during menstruation and protect ourselves from them. Because a possible occurring disease is the so-called toxic shock syndrome.

Lauren Wasser became ill and is now losing her second leg

Lauren Wasser is 29 years old and comes from the US state of California. She has been a model since she was a child, but if you look at the pictures she has taken on her Instagram account today, her prosthetic leg is what really catches the eye. She has worn these since she was 23 years old, as she suffered from Toxic Shock Syndrome in 2012 and her leg had to be amputated as a result of this infection. The reason for the illness is probably a tampon that has been worn overnight for too long. However, Lauren didn’t realize what she was suffering from at first. She initially had flu-like symptoms and felt sick. She went to sleep, but has no idea how long she slept.

At that time she was alone at home. Her mother, who was abroad, called her worried. However, Lauren went back to her bed and didn’t want to go to the doctor until the next day. Her mother called the police, who Lauren only noticed when her dog barked at the door. She sent the officers away again, but could barely stand. At this point, your dog had already made its way everywhere in the apartment. Lauren wanted to call her mother the next morning, but she didn’t. Again, the mother called the police, who eventually found Lauren unconscious on the ground.

Lauren’s organs were failing

Lauren was then placed in an induced coma as multiple organs failed. She had gangrene on her hands and feet, which got so bad that her right leg had to be amputated below the knee. Lauren fought for the second leg as doctors gave her a 50-50 chance. However, things did not look good: all five toes and part of the heel were removed from the left leg, while an open sore was also developing on this foot. Lauren suffered terribly and now her left leg had to be amputated:

“I’m in excruciating pain every day and it’s almost unbearable to walk. […] There is nothing I can do about it.”

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition that can occur due to an inflammatory response due to bacteria. These bacteria multiply in the body at an unusual rate and secrete toxic substances called toxins. As the doctor Ursula Höfer informs on the website , this toxin activates a large number of defense cells at the same time, completely random cells that are not actually responsible for these bacteria. This enormous amount of defense cells triggers inflammation throughout the body. Ultimately, vital organs can be affected.

Causes of Toxic Shock Syndrome

There are two causes of toxic shock syndrome. On the one hand, the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes, which are actually everyday germs and occur in the vaginal flora of many women, have to establish themselves and multiply there. This finally produces the toxin, which can get into the bloodstream through a tiny injury in the vagina and spread throughout the body. This can happen if you wear tampons for too long, i.e. longer than eight hours. More commonly, however, TSS occurs through skin and surgical wounds, through which the bacteria enter the body. This can therefore also affect men and children.

The second condition for a dangerous reaction to the produced toxin is the sensitivity of the affected person. Not everyone reacts to it in the same way, so it can hardly harm some of those affected. Theories about this sensitivity assume that there may be a predisposition to toxic shock syndrome, but there are also immune systems that can fight off the toxin. These people are less likely to be affected the older they get, as their bodies have learned to deal with the toxin.

Symptoms for TSS

The symptoms of TSS are very similar in those affected: the wound through which the bacteria enter the body is very painful and much more painful than with ordinary inflammation. Physically, TSS then manifests itself through:

  • rapidly rising fever
  • malaise
  • Diarrhea
  • a red rash

The rash initially appears mainly on the hands and feet and is very similar to sunburn. The skin begins to flake and peel as well.

As a result of the inflammatory reaction, fluid leaks out of the vessels and accumulates, which can lead to swelling. This fluid comes from the blood that flows through the vessels at high levels due to the inflammation. This means that the vessels are supplied with more blood in the event of a toxic shock. When the toxins have spread throughout the body and the inflammation is also everywhere, the bloodstream loses an enormous amount of fluid very quickly and the blood pressure drops. As a result, not all organs are supplied with sufficient blood – one speaks of a shock.

Toxic Shock Syndrome, Now What?

When treating TSS, the dangerous bacteria must be removed. On the one hand, this means that the tampon that may have been forgotten or left lying around for a long time must be removed. In the case of an infected wound, it must be cleaned, disinfected and possibly treated surgically. In addition, high-dose antibiotics are introduced via an IV which kill the bacteria. This also raises the low blood pressure.

Such infusion therapy requires regular monitoring, which is why this treatment is often carried out in an intensive care unit. Not least because toxic shock is a life-threatening condition that requires vital organs to be checked at all times so that intervention can be made in an emergency.

Hygiene measures are very important

As a woman, good hygiene can prevent TSS during menstruation. Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after changing tampons or menstrual cups, as this makes it more difficult for bacteria to multiply. Tampons should be changed very regularly and should never be left in the body for more than eight hours . Tampons with a smooth surface are recommended so that no fluff can remain in the body. If wounds occur, they should be treated very hygienically and disinfected to reduce the risk of infection.

Lauren wants to educate about TSS

Lauren fell ill without first knowing why. As also reported by , she fell into a coma and was unconscious for more than 24 hours before she was even found. By the time her tampon was finally removed, it had been in her body for more than 30 hours, so the toxins from the bacteria spread throughout her body, affecting all of her organs. But Lauren was lucky in misfortune: Toxic shock syndrome, however, has also resulted in deaths.

Lauren is now positive and even modeling again. She now wants to educate other people about TSS. Above all, however, she criticizes tampon manufacturers for the lack of information on the packaging, which hardly mentions possible risks and probably even uses materials that promote the spread of bacteria.

Lauren’s story is of course an extreme case, but it shows how important it is to be informed about this disease in order to be able to act quickly! This allows TSS to be successfully combated. That’s why many more parents should know about it in order to be able to enlighten and protect their daughters and themselves, of course. We wish Lauren continued positive energy and joie de vivre!

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