Wasser originally fell ill in 2012 while on her period and using tampons. She was found by paramedics face down on her bedroom floor and rushed to hospital, where she was diagnosed with the rare but potentially fatal condition Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
Wasser underwent a below-the-knee amputation of her right leg and lost the toes of her left foot due to complications with the infection. Ongoing problems with her left foot led to her second amputation earlier this year.
Wasser’s moving story has played out on Instagram, beautifully captured by her photographer girlfriend. And her personal crusade to warn women #itsnotrareitsreal has once again shone a spotlight on TSS. Almost forgotten, the condition hadn’t made headlines since the 80’s, when Rely (a super-absorbent tampon using the synthetic material CMC) was pulled off the shelves in the US due to a spike in TSS cases.
Here at home in 2017, Priceline Pharmacy sold 74 per cent more sanitary pads than tampons, with the sanitary pad category growing by 14 per cent. The figures are vexing, particular as they come in the golden age of fitness and athleisure … pads aren’t exactly the go-to under lululemon tights.
Is it the Lauren Wasser Effect? According to Priceline Pharmacist Regina Cowie, TSS anxiety is one factor in the trend.
“There has been an increase in awareness over the last decade about the implications of wearing a tampon for an extended period of time and associated risk of TSS. However, with proper use this risk is low. The great advances in the technology of pads over the years may also be a contributing factor,” says Cowie.
What actually is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
TSS is a very rare but potentially life-threatening condition typically caused by toxins from the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, says gynaecologist Dr Jenny Cook.
TSS doesn’t just affect women, anyone can carry the staphylococcus bacteria on their skin, in their nose – or vagina. The danger comes when the bacteria multiplies and releases toxins, hence why tampons (super-absorbent tampons provide a potential environment for bacteria growth) are associated with risk.