Recently, it was learned that a 27-year-old American model, Lauren Wasser, suffered toxic shock from prolonged tampon wear. This extremely rare event resulted in the amputation of her right leg. To better understand the cause of this type of problem and to find out if it can happen frequently, Dr. Lionel Reyftmann, a gynecologist based in Wollongong, Australia, agreed to answer the editors’ questions.
Have you ever experienced a tampon-related toxic syndrome in your patients?
No, I have never encountered one in my career, and in discussing it with gynecologist friends recently, they had never seen similar cases with complications of this type.
What exactly does “toxic shock from a tampon” mean?
To summarize, in the 1980s (I was a student), in the United States, the relationship between Toxic Shock Syndrome and tampon use was discovered.
It is the possibility that some women may receive a bacterial toxin through the bacterial agent Staphylococcus aureus, which can be carried in a tampon. This leads to septic shock (or toxic shock) with the possibility of failure of vital organs (liver, lungs, kidneys).
We heard a lot about it until the 1990’s; I was an intern and then an assistant in hospitals and I never received a patient with this syndrome.
So this syndrome does not seem to be frequent: what do you think about it?
Given the number of tampon users and the rarity of this syndrome, you have to be very, very reassuring about the use of tampons.
To put it plainly, for septic shock to develop, you need both the bacteria, the pathogenic toxin and a deficient local immunity.
We could compare this to the risk of dying from eating a thawed burger carrying Escherichia coli; every year, at least one person in France (often children) goes into septic shock after eating a thawed burger; yet we continue to eat it!
It would be a shame if in 2015, women started washing towels again! We should also stop using the car, given the very high risk of accidents!
Do you have any advice on how to avoid septic shock as much as possible?
For those who are still worried, use 100% cotton tampons (e.g. Unyque brand) or at least the least tampered with, without perfume. In fact, the more synthetic the tampons are, the higher the risk; studies have shown that cotton tampons are less likely to carry staphylococcus.
Menstrual cups (which are made of silicone) can also be used.
It is also important to change tampons regularly, no more than every 8 hours, taking care to wash your hands beforehand.
It is useless or even dangerous for the vagina to use eggs or disinfectants: local immunity is sufficient.
Smokers have a diminished immunity (I would have liked to know if the American model smoked, was she not anorexic, which diminishes immunity).
Do you want to add a little word in conclusion?
Bacteria and viruses are everywhere, but our organism has the means to fight them: immunity.
So protect your immunity, have a correct lifestyle: regular physical activity, a balanced diet and above all no smoking?