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Toxic Shock Syndrome – What Every Woman Should Know

Toxic Shock Syndrome ImgAmy Elifritz was age 20, menstruating and using tampons, when she came down with what appeared to be the flu.  She died four days later from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).  After Amy’s death, her mother, Lisa, founded You ARE Loved, a nonprofit that raises awareness about tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and provides factual menstrual information.

Since launching the You ARE Loved website, we have received and posted several stories of girls and young women who developed tampon related TSS in recent years: Sarah and Brittany, both age 15 – Alex, age 16 – Katelyn, 17 – Amanda, 19 – Lauren, 20 – Nikki, who died of TSS at 21 – Shenikwa, a college student – Heather, a new mom….

In spite of the fact that TSS warnings are on every tampon box and a TSS pamphlet within, teens and young women are developing tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and many are dying from it.

If you use traditional tampons, or know someone who does, please continue reading.  What follows may well save your life, or the life of someone you know and love.

Most women are more familiar with the myths about TSS than the facts.


Myth #1: Tampon related TSS only occurs when tampons are worn well over 8 hours.
Reality: While longer wear time increases risk, TSS can occur even if you change tampons frequently.

Myth #2: Girls and women are only at risk for tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome if they use high absorbency tampons with the super, super plus or ultra rating.
Reality: While higher absorbency increases risk, TSS can occur even if you only use low absorbency tampons with the lite or regular rating.

Myth #3: All tampons (or all tampons of a given absorbency rating) carry equal risk for TSS.
Reality: Dr. Philip Tierno, a professor of Microbiology and Pathology at New York University School of Medicine, has been involved with tampon related TSS research for over 30 years. He finds that viscose rayon is now solely responsible for tampon related TSS. In contrast to the many cases of TSS associated with traditional tampons containing viscose rayon, there has never been a case of TSS associated with the use of a 100% cotton tampon. 100% cotton tampons are now available at many health food stores, some pharmacies and online.


Know the facts.

Toxic Shock Syndrome develops when the common bacteria, Staphylococcus Aureus, produces a toxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The toxin rapidly overwhelms the immune system and attacks the major organs, leading to kidney failure, collapse of the lungs and in severe cases, cardiac arrest.


Symptoms of TSS

-Sore throat

-Aching muscles

-High temperature; over 102 degrees F



-Watery diarrhea

-Red rash



-Very low blood pressure


Only one or two symptoms may occur. They do not necessarily occur all at once and may not persist.


What You Should Do?

-Remove the tampon (save it if possible)

-Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention

-Inform the doctor that you have been using tampons

-Take a TSS information leaflet with you


To Reduce the Risk of TSS

-Only use tampons made of organic cotton

-Use the lowest absorbency needed at each stage of your period

-Avoid using tampons continuously during a period. Alternate with sanitary pads at night so the toxins have time to dissipate

-Use a pad at the end of your period

-Change tampons every 4 to 6 hours

-Don’t use tampons if you’ve had any unusual discharge

-Wash your hands before and after use and handle the tampon as little as possible

-Alert your family and friends to the symptoms and emergency action required

-Read and keep this information and/or the leaflet inside each box of tampons

-If you’ve had TSS never use tampons again


Many women mistakenly assume traditional tampons are their best menstrual option. There are MANY safer alternatives – disposable and reusable pads, 100% cotton tampons, disposable and reusable cups, sponges and period panties.


I am a survivor of tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and urge you to join me in raising awareness of tampon related TSS by sharing this information with the tweens, teens and young women in your life.


Bio: Suzan Hutchinson is a survivor of tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and serves as the Director of Connectivity for You ARE Loved. For additional information about TSS, please read our awareness brochure. You may contact us for more information about TSS, hardcopies of our awareness brochure, or to inquire about our educational materials and programs.

Learn more about TSS
Join Suzan Friday, January 10th for a special TSS tweet chat with Be Prepared. Period. We’ll be talking more about the dangers of TSS as well as answering questions. Check out our Tweet Chat Page for details.


Sign up below to receive notifications for our upcoming TSS Webinar with You ARE Loved.

19 Comments | Leave a Comment - We'd love to hear from you!

19 Responses to Toxic Shock Syndrome – What Every Woman Should Know

  1. I had a cousin that went through that. It is very scary!

  2. Carla Karam says:

    Thanks so much for writing about this. I, myself was always paranoid using tampons. Now that I have a little girl, I am leery of her using them period. Thank you for again for reminding us of the dangers o using tampons.

  3. Becky says:

    I am so glad you posted the myths. I was clueless. This is great info.

  4. Ang says:

    Wow, I knew they weren’t “that great” for you, but never realized that improper use could be fatal. I never use them myself, but it’s good to know now that 2 of my daughters are of “that age”–it’s my responsibility to inform them. Because otherwise what they hear is just “they are safe–nothing to worry about–everyone uses them all the time”. Thanks for posting!
    (new follower!)

    • Ang, I am glad you took the time to gain some awareness . . . please know girls, teens and women can and do get TSS from tampons even with “proper” use. While proper use is safer than improper it is still far more risky than using any other feminine hygiene product.

  5. Thanks Ang! We are always happy to hear this information is getting passed on. Unfortunately, there are too many women out there that do not realize the true risk. Thank you for sharing!

  6. […] to be aware of the things you may be potentially putting in your body. Not only are you at risk of TSS with conventional tampons, but now you may need to be on the look out for MOLD! (Judging by […]

  7. […] make some great products. They are also a safer option for your personal health. Tampon related TSS is a very real […]

  8. […] which included the story of a young woman, Amy Elifritz, who had recently passed away from Toxic Shock Syndrome. Her story moved me, and was the first case of TSS that I had ever heard. When visiting their […]

  9. […] TSS.  For the sake of good hygiene and to lessen the likelihood of Toxic Shock Syndrome, make sure you explain how important it is that she use the least absorbent tampon needed for her […]

  10. danie says:

    I just started using tampons now because I am heavy during periods. Doesn’t matter how thick or jumbo the pad I used, it always leak. Tampon is good for my heavy period but I am very scared of TSS!!! What should I do, should I just wear my jumbo pad or be cautious about TSS?

  11. […] it to be too late. For example, many young girls who use tampons do not fully understand what Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is or underestimate the possibility of getting it themselves. To make informed decisions, girls […]

  12. Jess says:

    Tonight I’ve had the symptoms of TSS.. But very small ones like stomache cramps but after I went to the bathroom an removed the tampon an had liquid diarea all my symptoms supsided also before that I ate some left overs an drank soda an got these symptoms right after I don’t have a fever or a rash just diarea but only once should I be worried I was wondering do I have to go to the hospital? I have a baby an going to the hospital if I dont need to is a lot of trouble an a huge hassle

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