Objective: Although the incidence of reported cases of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) has declined in recent years, the disease continues to occur in menstruating women using the newer, less-absorbent tampons or barrier contraceptives. Extant tampons and other vaginal devices were tested for the ability to induce TSS toxin-1 (TSST-1) by a TSS strain of Staphylococcus aureus MN8, a known high-toxin producer. Tested for the first time were 20 varieties of tampons, including 2 all-cotton brands newly introduced in the United States, a polyurethane contraceptive sponge, a latex diaphragm, and a polymer menstrual collection cup.
Methods: All products were washed in sterile distilled water prior to use to reduce the effect of leachable chemicals. Duplicate experiments with unwashed products were also performed. Entire tampons and other test products were immersed in brain heart infusion broth plus yeast extract (BHIY) and inoculated with S. aureus MN8, a known TSST-1 producer. After incubation, the culture supernatants were assayed for TSST-1 by gel immunodiffusion.
Results: Except for all-cotton tampons, greater amounts of TSST-1 were detected in the supernatant fluid of washed tampons than detected in those which were not washed. While TSST-1 levels in unwashed non-cotton tampons ranged from 0.5 to 8 microg/ml, when these products were washed, TSST-1 levels increased to 2-32 microg/ml. In all-cotton tampons, whether washed or not, there was no detectable TSST-1.
Conclusions: The propensity for all-cotton tampons not to amplify TSST-1 in vitro suggests they would lower the risk for tampon-associated TSS.