Toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, a life-threatening illness caused from a bacterial infection, made headlines in 1980 when an outbreak occurred that mostly involved young women who had been using a specific brand of very absorbent tampons. (The brand is now off the market.) The bacteria produce toxins that cause toxic shock syndrome.
TSS is marked by a sudden onset of fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches, and rash. Some experts say that very absorbent tampons, when left in place for a long time, become a breeding ground for bacteria and cause the syndrome. Others say how long you leave in a tampon doesn't increase your risk of getting sick.
Ideally, how long should you leave in a tampon? "Follow what the package insert says,'' suggests Deidre Defoe, MD, clinical director of Rachel's Well, a nonprofit women's health care organization based in Virginia.
Know that the condition is rare. In the U.S., about one or two of every 100,000 women ages 15 to 44 get toxic shock syndrome annually, according to the CDC.
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