Toxic shock syndrome has been a longtime risk of using tampons. But menstrual cups and TSS are also connected as well. This is surprising news for people who thought the cup was a goddess' gift to menstruating women everywhere. But to really understand why TSS might be a risk for women using the cup, you have to know what causes toxic shock syndrome, and how you can take precautions so that you don't develop the illness.
A Vice story went viral over the summer about a Los Angeles model who developed TSS from using a tampon. At the age of 24, Lauren Wasser ended up in the hospital with a fever of 107 degrees. Her organs were shutting down and she had suffered a massive heart attack. Doctors had no idea what was causing Masser's illness until an infectious disease doctor asked if she had a tampon inside her. Indeed, Masser did. The lab confirmed that the tampon tested positive for TSS. As a result of the infection caused by TSS, Wasser developed gangrene and had to have part of her leg amputated. This tragic story had women terrified that they too could develop TSS, an illness anyone who's used a tampon knows about, but never thinks could happen to them.
Masser's high profile and story is useful in educating women about TSS: what causes it and how you can prevent it when using a menstrual cup or tampon.
1. TSS Is Caused By Bacteria
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told The Cut that TSS is caused by a "specific strain of staph bacteria (staphylococcus aureus)." So, if women have enough staph bacteria in their vaginal flora, they are at risk of developing TSS. Staph bacteria will "multiply in the tampon’s absorbent fibers, producing a harmful toxin," Minkin explained. The risk for TSS is lower when using a menstrual cup, but still exists.
2. Staph-Related TSS Is Pretty Rare
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2014, there were 59 cases of Staph related TSS reported, so the infection is pretty rare. Minkin told The Cut symptoms of TSS include high fever, rash, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea, confusion, low blood pressure, and the potential for organ failure.
3. How To Use A Menstrual Cup To Keep TSS Risk Low
Because TSS is caused by a bacterial infection, common sense says the best way to protect yourself from developing the illness is to change your cup often, so that the staph that lives in your vaginal flora, doesn't accumulate. As Minkin told The Cut, your vaginal flora changes from month to month, so having cultures taken of your vagina is not a feasible option.
As long as you are mindful of your menstrual cup, and follow the instructions for changing and cleaning it, you should be fine.