Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Claim: Tampax Pearl brand tampons have been linked to an outbreak of toxic shock syndrome.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]
Origins: Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a serious, potentially fatal disease, caused by toxin-producing strains of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Although the link between TSS and tampon use is unclear, about half of all cases of TSS occur in women who use tampons, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The
Between October 1979 and May 1980, 55 TSS cases and seven deaths were reported. Most were among women who experienced onset of illness within a week following their periods. The TSS epidemic reached its peak in 1980 with a total ofIn September 2002, Tampax (a Procter & Gamble brand) launched a new tampon, the Tampax Pearl, among whose selling points was its "unique absorbent braid for extraordinary protection." The TSS bogeyman was quickly resurrected in e-mail rumors, the first of which appeared within eight months of Tampax Pearl's introduction to the marketplace and claimed that five cases of Pearl-related toxic shock syndrome had been reported in the Tucson, Arizona, area alone:
CDC carried out national and state-based studies to pinpoint TSS risk factors and used its national surveillance system to track trends. Research suggested one factor was the use of very highly absorbent tampons made from new materials.
Studies showed that women who used Proctor & Gamble's Rely tampons were at substantially greater risk for TSS than other tampon users. This brand consisted of polyester foam and a special type of highly absorbent cellulose, a combination no longer used in tampons. "TSS was not limited to Rely, but it did play a major role," says Pollard. Proctor & Gamble voluntarily withdrew that tampon from the market in 1980, and competing manufacturers of tampons made from other superabsorbent materials began removing them as well.
Compared with the 813 menstrual TSS cases in 1980, there were only three confirmed cases in 1998 and six in 1997. "Although there is some underreporting of cases, this is a real decline," says Rana Hajjeh, M.D., a medical epidemiologist with CDC's division of bacterial and mycotic diseases. She attributes the drop in TSS rates to the removal of Rely from the market and advances in the way FDA regulates tampon materials and absorbency
Debbie Herrerras 16 year old daughter got Toxic Shock Syndrome from using the Tampax Pearl Tampon. She begged her mom for it because it was so pretty. WithinFive "life-threatening cases" of toxic shock syndrome (an outbreak which would exceed the total number of TSS cases reported to the CDC for the entire year of 1998), all occurring in the same metropolitan area within months of each other and all linked to the same product is a phenomenon which would garner a great deal of attention, yet nobody we've contacted within the Tucson medical community nor the CDC acknowledges having heard anything about it. This item seems to be a bit of specious scarelore based upon the mistaken assumption that braided cords in feminine hygiene products are in themselves a cause of toxic shock syndrome, a belief drawn from a misunderstanding of the issues involved with the Dalkon Shield.
The Tampax Pearl tampon has a braided cord.
Twenty years ago the IUD was taken off the market because the braided cord was found to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The Tucson Hospital has already had 5 life threatening cases from the Pearl as of
Please tell every woman you care about.
Beginning in 1970, the A.H. Robins Company marketed the Dalkon Shield, a contraceptive intrauterine device, or IUD. (An IUD is a small plastic T-shaped device with an attached removal cord which is inserted into the uterus through the cervix and which, when in place, irritates the endometrial lining of the uterus and thereby prevents implantation of a fertilized ovum along the uterine wall, a necessary step in the development of an embryo.) After a large number of pelvic disease and septic abortion cases (including 12 deaths due to miscarriage-related infections) were linked to Dalkon Shields in the early 1970s,
One of the potential causes of Dalkon Shield-related medical problems was thought to be its braided, multi-filament removal cord, the hypothesis being that the braided cord provided a breeding ground for bacteria and served as a conduit which allowed those bacteria to travel from the vagina to the cervix (and thence into the uterus and fallopian tubes). Tampax Pearl tampons also have braided removal cords (designed to help prevent soilage — material bypassing the tampon even though it is not yet "full," a problem experienced by 25% of tampon users), but its similarities to the Dalkon Shield end there. Even if the "conduit" hypothesis were true, it would not be an issue with Tampax Pearl tampons, because the Pearl's braided cord does not bridge two different microbiological environments (i.e., the vagina and the cervix) as the Dalkon Shield's did. The removal cord for the Pearl tampon rests completely in the lower third of the vagina and thus provides no conduit for bacteria to travel from the vagina to the cervix (and beyond).
The warning message quoted at the head of this page, which purportedly describes the experience of a Pearl user who suffered continual yeast infections and then found that fibers from Pearl tampons had been accumulating inside her for five months and caused her cervix to bleed, is similarly unlikely. Yeast infections are normally caused by a fungus, a particular problem when the normal biological balance of the vagina is disturbed (e.g., through changes in hormone levels during pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and the normal fluctuation in
All that can really be verified about this latter e-mail is that the Amy Strand who started the message is indeed a real person. A Procter & Gamble spokesperson informed us that they did contact her employer (Ford) in their efforts to track down the origin of the rumor, and Amy Strand stated that she had been let go by her employer for violating company policy by using the company system for personal
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