Amy 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 contrast to the many Toxic Shock Syndrome stories on You ARE Loved‘s site, mine is not one of illness, loss or pain. I am a lucky one!
My mom solely used tampons, so I was naturally curious about them. After only a few cycles of using pads I snuck some of my mom’s tampons (and never looked back.) After “borrowing” a large quantity from her, I feared she would begin to notice.
Somehow I worked up the courage (for some reason I thought she might not approve) to approach her and let her know I wanted start using tampons. She understood my dislike of pads and was ok with me making the switch. A lot like the menstruation/puberty talks we had, this talk was also very brief. I only recall her mentioning a quick caution to not leave them in too long because of something rare called TSS that could make me sick. That conversation did not concern me enough to read the warning on the box (or leaflet inside).
The day started out great we all woke up got ready and went to breakfast. Our cabin was known for not putting in too much effort when getting ready. While the other girl’s rooms were filled with fumes of hair spray and their mirrors were prime real estate our routine consisted of rolling out of bed, throwing our hair in a ponytail, and heading out. Sweats were ok, but not because I didn’t care but because the Seniors and Juniors wore them. Don’t get me wrong while I wanted the bow in my hair and wished I had a different lip gloss for every day of the week that just was not the style and habit of my bunk mates.
I was so thrilled to be in the same cabin as Ashley, Sarah and Erica. They were older and so comfortable in their skin. The did not seem to need anyone’s approval and made sure the younger girls knew it too. It was my second visit to camp with them and I was in aww that it was “cool” to be Christian and sing and be loud and proud about it. The girls did their best to make the underclass man feel welcome and accepted. Continually they told us about the shaving cream fight and how wonderful and fun it was. The day was epic at camp and we tried to stay together and have each other’s backs. Being it was held outside and we were in the mountains safety was key and our counselors made it clear we needed to keep an eye out for each other and make sure that everyone stayed safe and no one got hurt.
The term toxic shock syndrome (TSS) refers to a rare complication from a bacterial infection often resulting in life-threatening consequences. Frequently, TSS occurs from toxins released by the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the Streptococcus pyogenes (strep) bacteria can also cause the condition. These toxins circulate throughout the bloodstream, causing high fever, rash, multiple organ system failures, and hypotension.
TSS History and Risk Factors
Physicians first saw the often-fatal condition in children in 1978, but it later became associated with super-absorbent tampons and contraceptive sponges. An epidemic of the condition sprung up in 1981; authorities linked it to women using a certain type of super-absorbent tampons. Healthcare providers see the most common types of TSS in menstruating women; tampon use encourages the proliferation of bacteria that grows naturally in the vagina. Even so, men and postmenopausal women can also become infected. Risk factors, in addition to super-absorbent tampon use, include open skin wounds, nasal packing, childbirth and surgery.
Toxic Shock Syndrome was back in the headlines recently following an investigation on US television about the tampon related death of Amy Elifritz.
Natracare raised the issue of fibre loss in conventional tampons at least 15 years ago. The reaction from those conventional brands was that the body naturally dispels the fibres. We asked nurses doing smear tests and they said that they can always tell who uses tampons because they have to remove old tampon fibres before achieving a clear smear for sampling. Conventional tampons mostly use rayon to make their tampons. Rayon is a straight, smooth fibre made from wood pulp. These smooth fibres have little integrity so they slide apart more easily when wet. Eventually, these same manufacturers who claimed fibre loss was not an issue, decided to put a polypropylene (that’s plastic to you and me) non-woven wrapper around the rayon core to reduce the loss of fibres.