You've probably seen warnings for toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in fine print on a tampon box, and you may remember the example of model Lauren Wasser whose tragic and much-publicized health problems were blamed on tampon use. In 2012, the 24-year-old famously contracted toxic shock syndrome and ended up having both a heart attack and a leg amputation. Doctors blamed the tampons she was using, and they may have indeed played a part. However, using (or leaving in) tampons is actually only one of the rarer ways you get toxic shock syndrome, and there are some pretty gruesome facts about the condition that you need to know.
TSS is caused by a buildup of toxins thanks to the strep and staph bacteria that lie inherently and mostly dormant in a human body. Though most of the human population can deal with this small amount of bacteria normally, there's a small segment of the population who can't. This is why TSS isn't solely a problem for women; in fact, only about 50% of TSS cases are in women.
Many people have indeed died of staph infections, but staph and strep are both bacteria that can naturally live in or on the body. Though TSS is serious and can be fatal if not diagnosed quickly, it's incredibly rare, much like many other serious diseases.
The Most Famous Person To Die From TSS Was A Man
Jim Henson, creator of the beloved Muppets, died at age 54, of toxic shock syndrome. Clearly, Henson wasn't using tampons, but he did have the Streptococcus pyogenes germ (the same germ that causes strep throat). Henson appeared for the last time with Kermit on May 4, 1990. On May 15 of that year, he told his wife he felt like dying and eventually went to the hospital. On May 16, he was dead from pneumonia, a direct result of what toxic shock syndrome had done to his immune system. Though the doctors gave him antibiotics, the toxins from TSS had already made quick work of his organs.
TSS Wiped A Woman's Memory
In 2011, a woman from Wales ended up in a week-long coma, and reportedly TSS was to blame. She lost her memory, forgetting things almost immediately. Four years afterward, her memory had still improved only slightly. Considering that she originally couldn't walk, talk, or feed herself in the immediate coma aftermath, it's practically a miracle that she recovered at all. Doctors originally thought she would die.
The woman had originally thought she had the flu, but when she soon became unable to even move or communicate, she went to the emergency room where the staff induced a coma and ran CT scans. The woman had an ovarian cyst, and emergency surgery quickly removed not only the cyst and her ovary but also her fallopian tube. Doctors at the time suspected that because she had been using the highest absorbency tampons possible throughout her entire menstrual cycle, development of TSS toxins had compounded and nearly killed her.
A Model Had Her Leg Amputated Thanks To TSS
Lauren Wasser, a 24-year-old model living in Los Angeles, fell ill quickly — despite using tampons responsibly and changing them frequently. In 2012, she ended up at the hospital with a fever of 107 degrees after having a heart attack. Like others who have suffered from TSS, she was put in a medically induced coma. When she woke, she had developed gangrene as blood was no longer flowing to her legs. When they tested the tampon she had in when she arrived at the hospital, analysis revealed TSS. She has since described the experience as the most excruciating pain you could ever imagine.
The infection turned into gangrene and Lauren ended up losing her right leg below the knee. She lost the toes of her right foot also, but was at least able to keep her leg. Years later, she is still having surgeries.
A Brand Of Tampons In The 1970s Caused An Outbreak Of TSS
Part of the initial clamor around tampons causing TSS dates back to the 1970s. When Rely — a brand of super absorbent tampons — was released by Proctor & Gamble, cases of TSS skyrocketed. The high absorbency, mixed with the synthetic fibers that were becoming more common, allowed bacteria to grow aplenty. They were taken off the market in 1980.
If you need further proof that Rely was not legit, you should know that the marketing of Rely said that one tampon could absorb the blood from your entire period — yes, your entire period, which typically lasts for multiple days.
In 1982, Proctor & Gamble was found negligent in a court case — and 400 more trials followed. 1,500 women had developed TSS, and 84 women died from it. Today, tampons are considered an "intermediate risk" device and must be approved by the FDA, hence the small-print warning on all the boxes.
What was Proctor & Gamble's defense in that 1982 trial? That the woman had the flu.