Phoebee Bambury was at university one evening just over a month ago when she started to get a headache. During the night, the 19-year-old then developed muscle pains, vomiting and a high temperature, and her condition continued to worsen. “In the early hours of the morning I woke up shivering uncontrollably,” she said.
Most us would likely assume the symptoms were fairly general and benign – but Bambury had something far more serious in the back of her mind. At university, she’d learnt about toxic shock syndrome (TSS), and was acutely aware that what she was experiencing matched the symptoms.
Instead of assuming it would pass after a few days, she rang 111 (the emergency number in New Zealand), and was told she needed to get to hospital as soon as possible. She was only there for 10 minutes before she had a drip inserted, and a fan placed next to her to try to lower her body temperature.
“What followed were days of being very very poorly,” she said. “I had an extremely low blood pressure, a constantly high temperature, rashes all over my body, I was being sick a hell of a lot and I was in agony. My face, my wrists and my ankles swelled up and I looked like Violet Beauregarde.”
Doctors confirmed that Bambury had contracted TSS from tampon use, although she maintains she always stuck to the guidelines, and never had a tampon in for longer than eight hours.
She also didn’t have a tampon in when she was hospitalised.
Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss their period problems.
In an emotional Facebook post, Bambury outlined her ordeal, and said it was incredibly lucky that she was so aware of the symptoms of TSS. Her degree in pharmacy allowed her to recognise the symptoms, and having lost a friend’s mother to the infection, she knew how severe it could be.
“I wanted to write this post to raise awareness, because things could have turned out VERY differently,” she wrote. “It’s only because I was aware of the symptoms and got myself to a hospital QUICKLY that I have managed to return home so soon.”
She then listed the followiing:
- a high temperature (fever) of 39C (102.2F) or above
- flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, chills, muscle aches, a *sore throat and a cough
- feeling and being sick
- a widespread sunburn-like rash
- the whites of the eyes, lips and tongue turning a bright red
- dizziness or fainting
- breathing difficulties
While Bambury's experience is terrifying, and it's lucky she attended hospital so soon, TSS is incredibly rare. In Australia, there have been less than 25 cases of TSS since 1981. While the infection is associated with tampon use, it isn't caused by it - it's caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. As a result, men, children and women using pads can also contract it, although it's less likely.
Health authorities recommend women avoid using a single tampon for an extended period of time, and it's believed public health messages about regularly changing tampons are the reason the incidence of TSS has decreased.