This week (6th – 12th June 2011) is National Tampon Alert Week which is aimed at raising awareness about the potential symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) to women who use tampons. Alice Kilvert Tampon Alert is a UK registered charity which was set up to raise awareness of TSS after Alice Kilvert from Manchester died from tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome at the age of 15 and is the founding organisation for Tampon Alert Week.
Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by a strain of staph, the bacterium Staphylococcus Aureus which can be fatal if not treated immediately (1). A toxin is produced which is absorbed into the bloodstream and this toxin very rapidly overwhelms the individual’s immune system which can compromise and attack the body’s vital organs (2). Toxic Shock Syndrome doesn’t necessarily just affect women who use tampons; it can affect both men and women of all ages, however disturbingly over half of all cases (3) are women using a tampon.
According to tamponalert.org.uk, the symptoms of TSS may include the following:
– Always begin AFTER a period starts.
– Early symptoms may include headache, and/or sore throat, aching muscles and high temperature.
– Followed by vomiting, watery diarrhoea, a red rash, confusion and dizziness and very low blood pressure.
– Only one or two symptoms may occur and they do not necessarily occur all at once and may not persist.
If you suspect you are suffering from TSS, you should remove your tampon and seek medical assistance immediately.
The best way to avoid TSS is not to use a tampon overnight and not to keep it in for any longer than 8 hours. Always wash hands before and after use and use the lowest absorbency for your flow. Ideally, use sanitary wear that is made from natural cottons and fibres rather than synthetically treated ones which may contain bleaches and other chemicals.
A possible healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative might be to use a menstrual cup. Products like the Mooncup and the Femmecup are reusable, non-disposable menstrual cups used instead of tampons and sanitary-wear which do not contain bleaches, deodorisers or absorbency gels. They are made with medical grade non-allergic silicone and will not cause irritation. Ani Richardson has previously written about the use of menstrual cups for women who suffer with vaginal thrush, vaginosis or vaginitis so it is not just TSS that menstrual cups may help prevent.
For more information on TSS, the Tampon Alert leaflet can be read and downloaded here.
(1) University of Illinois, McKinley Health Centre
Written by Katie Guest