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  • Elise Dottrens

All you need to know about TSS



Just imagine you wake up one morning and you realize you’re starting your period. In itself, it’s nothing particular. There is a small stain on the sheets but it’s not dramatic. After showering you put a tampon and go on with your day. But then, imagine that at some point in the morning you start getting a headache, feeling dizzy, and suddenly feel like puking. But as you get up to puke, you loose consciousness.

And just imagine that, when you wake up, you’re in the hospital, and both your legs has been amputated.

Doesn’t make sense? Actually, it does.

It’s more or less what happened to Lauren Wasser. On 3rd of October 2012, the young 24 years old model started her period and, at the same time, a small cold. Or at least she thought it was a small cold. She didn’t bother much and just went to bed, but she happened to be too tired to get in touch with her mother, who was expecting news from her. Worried, she called the police, who found Lauren laying on the floor, among her own vomit and feces.

Two weeks later, Lauren’s right leg was amputated.

Here are the exact reasons of this mysterious phenomenon: it is an infection, due to a certain type of bacteria, the Staphylococcus Aerus, which causes the toxin TSST-1 to develop. In English, we call that the toxic shock syndrome (TSS). A tampon who stayed too long in the vagina is a perfect opportunity for the bacteria to develop, who then spreads in the blood. It is said, but not confirmed, that the mysterious composition of tampons can lead to the infection, too. Basic symptoms, just like Lauren experienced, are fever, nausea, diarrhoea, headaches and a feeling of dizziness. This being said, men and children (and women) can also catch the infection through an open wound which gets infected. In total, 1% of all women have a chance of develop the bacteria, and half of the contracted cases were due to wearing a tampon. Even if TSS can be treated with antibiotics, it can be fatal if not taken care of in due time.

It is then obvious that utmost precaution it required. Unfortunately, we don’t have control on all aspects, particularly the tampons composition. In 2015, Melanie Doerflinger, a 19 year old student, launched a petition on the platform change.org, asking Tampax to give us more information. It was signed 300 000 times, but nothing changed.

But there’s still something we can do. We can change our habits. For a total boycott of the big companies which make tampons as well as a reduction in the risk of getting TSS, the menstrual cup is the best option nowadays. But have caution! Organic tampons and the cup do not eliminate the risk completely. You’ll still have to change them regularly or clean the cup thoroughly.


I found my sources here, here and there and in Elise Thiébaut's book, "Ceci est mon sang, Petite histoire des règles, de celles qui les ont et de ceux qui les font", Editions La Découverte, Paris.

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