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11 tips that could save your daughter’s life

Questions answered about toxic shock syndrome

It may sound like an outdated illness of the past, but toxic shock syndrome is still a very real, frightening condition that nearly took the life of a 15-year old Michigan girl.

The story of Rylie Whitten has recently made national headlines. Her doctors say she suffered one of the worst cases of toxic shock syndrome they had ever seen. For nearly two weeks Rylie was unconscious but she is currently off life support and giving doctors hope of recovery from this rare syndrome that affects only about 1 in 100,000 people.

Still, parents may want to uses Rylie’s story as a cautionary tale for their own daughter.

What is toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a group of symptoms throughout the body. This illness can progress rapidly and lead to a failure of multiple body systems. Toxic shock syndrome can be fatal. It’s caused by two types of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (often called staph) and Streptococcus pyogenes (often called strep). These bacteria can produce toxins. In some people whose bodies can't fight these toxins, the immune system reacts.

What causes TSS?

Factors that can increase your risks of TSS include chickenpox, skin lesions such as burns and HIV infection.

But what’s mostly associated with the cause of TSS is tampon use. The earliest cases date back to the late 1970s and were caused by super-absorbent tampons. Research produced better, safer tampons and better habits, such as changing them more often, caused a significant decrease. Today, about half of all TSS cases are linked to menstruation.

Other causes include two types of birth control methods – the contraceptive sponge and the diaphragm.

What should your daughter do to decrease the risk of menstrual-associated TSS?

Your daughter should only use low absorbency tampons and change them often.

Risk of menstrual-associated TSS can be lowered with the following steps:

  1. Do not use tampons continuously when menstruating.
  2. Alternate using a tampon with a sanitary pad.
  3. Switch to sanitary pads at night.
  4. Do not use super absorbency tampons.
  5. Change tampons frequently during the day (every 4-8 hours).
  6. Store tampons in a clean, dry place.
  7. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after using a tampon.
  8. Use a lower absorbency tampon if you find the tampon is irritating or hard to remove.
  9. Use tampons only during menstruation.
  10. Seek medical care for infected wounds.
  11. If you have had TSS, do not use tampons or place birth control devices in your vagina.


*Photo from Spectrum Heath "Heath Beat"/ Courtesy of the Whitten family

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