Dr. Jane: Are Women to Blame for New Wave of TSS?

Dr. Jane: Are Women to Blame for New Wave of TSS?

Dr. Jane: Are Women to Blame for New Wave of TSS?
Written by Dr. Jane van Dis

International media has been abuzz with news of TSS outbreaksand near-death experiences for young women. As a board certified OBGYN, I’ve been shocked to see how this news has incited critical and judgmental reactions from both men and women:

“How could a woman forget that she put a tampon in?”
“That’s stupid!”
“There’s no excuse.”

Leaving a tampon in, forgetting you put a tampon in, accidentally putting two tampons in…. or all of the above, can happen to ANY woman. Whether that woman has a high school education or a college education or a graduate degree or a medical degree herself. It happens. Maybe due to stress or busy lives.

But maybe it’s not due to anything at all. Maybe it’s simply an honest, common mistake.

Lots of women have come to my office through the years with vague complaints of smell or discomfort — not knowing that they’ve accidentally left a tampon in for a few days or even a few weeks. As other OB/GYN colleagues can attest, my experience with patients is all too common.

The Centers for Disease Control stopped trackingToxic Shock Syndromeback in 1986, so it’s not surprising that it’s felt like like toxic shock syndrome has disappeared.

There’s been a lot of misinformation out there, so I want to help clarify what toxic shock syndrome is, and help people better understand how to prevent it.

Emily Pankhurst
Photo credit: The Independent, Emily Pankhurst, 20, was rushed to the hospital late February and fought for her life after getting TSS from an old tampon.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome [TSS] and what are the symptoms?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an acute, multi-system, toxin-mediated infection that can lead to septic shock and multi-organ failure, and even death (mortality rates for TSS are 30–70%). It was originally associated with super absorbent tampons, but can be associated with any size tampon made of any material. It is typically caused by transmission of normal skin bacteria (staphlococcus aureus or group A steptococcus) into the vaginal canal through insertion of tampons.

TSS was first described in the 1980s but continues to be a danger for menstruating women. Many of us don’t recognize the early symptoms of TSS as they are eerily similar to countless other diseases and conditions, both viral and bacterial.

Symptoms also mirror the side effects that prostaglandin release causes in one’s menstrual cycle every month and are considered “normal” side effects of menstruation. These include lower abdominal pain, cramping, back pain, restlessness, muscle aches or myalgia, diarrhea, nausea, emesis and low-grade fever.

It may surprise you to learn that toxic shock can occur after usage for less than 24 hours.

It’s unknown as to why some women are affected by TSS in a short period of time, while others have tampons left in the vagina for weeks with no incidence.

The toxins released by the staph or strep bacteria act as “superantigens” in the immune system and trigger activation of cytokines which can causes severe tissue damage.

De-Bunking the “Organic Tampons = No Risk of TSS” Myth

Headlines about TSS and the rise in the popularity in organic personal care products have led to an increased demand for “all natural,” 100% cotton, and organic tampons. This is evidenced by the number of all-natural and organic brands and startups that were introduced in the U.S. last year.

But there’s no medical data that would support the use of organic tampons or pads.

Making claims in the media that imply natural tampons are safer — or that they can’t cause TSS — is irresponsible and dangerous since this is not supported by any scientific evidence or endorsed by the FDA.

So, Let’s Recap:

  1. Toxic Shock Syndrome or TSS is caused by naturally occurring staph or strep bacteria (that’s on your skin)
  2. 20% of humans carry this bacteria on our skin, and an even higher percentage of us carry it in our nose.
  3. At low levels, this bacteria doesn’t cause significant harm to us, but tampons create an environment where it can thrive: warm, dark and moist (like a vagina).
  4. All tampons (including “all natural”) can exacerbate the risk for TSS because bacteria grow in organic materials, like the cotton found in the tampon that’s in your vagina right now.

Let’s stop judging women, get the facts out there, and help prevent TSS from afflicting more women, together.

About the author: Dr. Jane van Dis is a board certified OB/GYN and has been practicing medicine for 13 years. She is also an advisor to The Flex Company.

  • Your period
  • Your lifestyle
  • Your concerns

Typically, how many days is your period?

How heavy is your flow on your heaviest days?

When did your last period start?

How many weeks do you typically have between periods?

What period product do you use most frequently?

How disruptive can your period be to your life?

What bothers you most about having your period?

What is the one thing you wish you could change about your period?

  • < 2 Days
  • 3 Days
  • 4 Days
  • 5 Days
  • 6 Days
  • 7 Days
  • > 8 Days
LIGHT (1-2 tampons/day)
MEDIUM (3-4 tampons/day)
HEAVY (4-5 tampons/day)
  • < 2 Weeks
  • 3 Weeks
  • 4 Weeks
  • 5 Weeks
  • 6 Weeks
  • 7 Weeks
  • > 8 Weeks
Period Panties
Can’t get out of bed
Can’t do certain activities
I mostly feel uncomfortable
Just like any other day
I’m constantly running to the bathroom
I can’t sleep through the night
My work out routine is thrown off
I can’t have sex
I feel uncomfortable
Less cramping
Less odor
Fewer leaks
Risk of TSS
Less waste
If you’re not sure, choose MEDIUM.

All done!

What email would you like your results sent to?

By clicking "See My Results" you agree to
receive email from The Flex Company.

Here is our pick for you!
plan type
Light plan $6.50
4 Discs per cycle per period
8 Discs every 2 months
Light Flow Starter Kit
Includes 8 discs + our Getting Started Guide

We will automatically ship 8 discs for $12.99 every 2 months starting on . We’ll remind you before we process the next order. You can pause or cancel anytime, online.

plan type
Medium plan $12
8 Discs per cycle per period
16 Discs every 2 months
Medium Flow Starter Kit
Includes 8 discs + our Getting Started Guide

We will automatically ship 16 discs for $21.99 every 1 month starting on . We’ll remind you before we process the next order. You can pause or cancel anytime, online.

plan type
Heavy plan $14
12 Discs per cycle per period
24 Discs every 2 months
Heavy Flow Starter Kit
Includes 12 discs + our Getting Started Guide

We will automatically ship 24 discs for $26.99 every 1 month starting on . We’ll remind you before we process the next order. You can pause or cancel anytime, online.

Try FLEX with some liners at first.

Sometimes you just feel better with a little backup. FLEX plus liners would be a great combination for you while you transition to FLEX to help guard against leaks until you get the hang of positioning FLEX.

Not ready for membership? Try just one FLEX.

Here is our pick for you

Flex cup
Flex cup


$32.99 71+ Reviews

1 Menstrual Cup

  • + 1 Carrying Pouch
  • + 2 free Menstrual Discs

The FLEX Cup comes with 2 free FLEX Discs for you to try so that you can experience two new and innovative period products for no extra charge.

Free US Shipping

No Image