The recent news about Lauren Wasser, a 30-year-old model who had her second leg amputated due to complications of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has made a lot of women panic. What was once a condition you’d only read about on a box of tampons was suddenly very real for anyone who was following along with Wasser’s story on Instagram.
News like this is always heartbreaking and frightening to hear. But before you ditch your tampons in favor of period panties or diaper-like pads, there are a few things you should know about toxic shock syndrome.
What is toxic shock syndrome?
TSS is a life-threatening complication of a bacterial infection, especially infection with Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). This bacteria can be found in up to half of healthy young adults in the skin and mucous membranes, such as in the vagina, explains Christina Jahncke, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) at Meridian Women’s Health at Northwest Outpatient Medical Center.
Menstrual toxic shock syndrome first emerged as a health threat to women of reproductive age between 1979 and 1980, when otherwise healthy young women in several states were diagnosed. Very high absorbency tampons, made of rayon fibers, had recently been introduced to the market, which meant women could use them for an extended period of time, says Jahncke.