Lauren Wasser, a model in her 20s, had her leg amputated in 2012 due to complications from TSS. Almost 35 years after the first toxic shock syndrome (TSS) lawsuits were settled, another young woman is suing a tampon manufacturer in hopes that her experience with the condition will force companies to offer more stringent warnings about the risks of tampon use. She filed a suit against Kimberly-Clark Corporation’s Kotex brand, as well as the grocery stores who sold the tampons.
The Wasser Lawsuit
In the filing against Kimberly-Clark and grocery store chains Ralph’s and Kroger, the Wasser family claims the tampon manufacturer and the grocery stores who carried these tampons were negligent in clearly warning women about the danger of using this product. These corporations were “negligently, wantonly, recklessly, tortuously, and unlawfully responsible in some manner” for Lauren’s illness and the subsequent loss of her leg, according to the lawsuit.
One of the arguments the Wasser family has levied against Kimberly-Clark questions their written warnings about the ways to reduce the risk of toxic shock. The warning instructs women to “change your tampon every four to eight hours, including overnight.” The lawsuit states that this could be confusing for people who sleep for more than eight hours at a time. The Wassers want a “black box” type warning to be included on tampon packaging, resembling the warnings used on some dangerous prescription medications as mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The suit also questions the industry’s use of synthetic materials, and looks to raise concerns among young women about whether these materials increase the risk of TSS and other infections. Similar concerns have been raised over synthetic materials used internally from plaintiffs attorneys in surgical mesh lawsuits filed over erosion claims, infections and other adverse effects from use.
Lauren Wasser began her modeling career at age two, and even appeared as a cover model on Italian Vogue during her preschool years. Two decades later, she was still working as a model while also pursuing acting classes. On October 3, 2012, the 24-year-old Wasser purchased a box of Kotex Natural Balance tampons from her neighborhood Ralph’s grocery store, just as she had dozens of times before.
That evening, she began to feel ill.
A worried friend who checked on her later found her facedown on the floor with a 107-degree fever. By the time she reached the hospital, she was only minutes from death, having suffered a massive heart attack. Her organs were also shutting down. Her body had given up its fight. Despite a medically induced coma, fluids and treatments that removed toxins, the infection in her right leg turned to gangrene. Wasser’s organs fully recovered, but her leg had to be amputated just below the knee.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome doesn’t occur from tampon use alone. Instead, it is a complication of a bacterial infection that is already present in the body. In most cases, this infection is caused by a staph bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus. Staph infections are fairly common, and are only rarely complicated by TSS.
For 35 years, the possibility of TSS has been well-known by tampon manufacturers. Proctor and Gamble’s Rely superabsorbent tampons were implicated in a number of deaths and illnesses in the early 1980s, bringing the issue to the forefront of women’s minds (Yale Study). These tampons contained carboxymethylcellulose, a gel that made it possible for them to absorb more fluid than previous tampons. This meant women wore them longer, allowing more bacteria to grow. At the same time, the gel provided a perfect environment for staph infections to thrive, according to a 1980s study conducted by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
(See Also: Joint Infection Lawsuit Information)
While the syndrome is primarily associated with tampon use, it is important to note that any absorbent material used to collect bodily fluids could serve as a breeding ground for bacteria. In fact, fewer than 50 percent of all cases of TSS are linked to tampons, according to reports from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Rely Tampon Lawsuits
After hundreds of complaints and a number of deaths, Proctor and Gamble pulled Rely tampons from grocery store and pharmacy shelves in September of 1980. This move was prompted by a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that linked the rise in toxic shock syndrome cases to the tampons (CDC: first TSS report).
The first case against Proctor and Gamble’s Rely brand tampons came to an end in March of 1982, when a Federal jury ruled that the manufacturer had offered a defective product and was negligent in its marketing of the tampons (NYTimes). However, no damages were awarded to the Colorado family who filed the suit on behalf of their teenage daughter. In all, almost 500 cases were filed against the company by women who developed toxic shock syndrome after using Rely products.
This case prompted the current TSS warnings that are included on all tampon boxes. It also changed the usage directions associated with tampons, which now tell women to use the lightest absorbency possible and change their tampons frequently.
As synthetic fibers were developed in the 1960s, some personal hygiene companies saw the promise these absorbent materials had for increasing the useful life of a tampon (Source: Yale Study). Previously, tampons were made from cotton and other natural materials, which could only absorb a limited amount of fluid before needing to be changed. This prevented most cases of TSS from developing.
It wasn’t until 1978 that toxic shock syndrome even had a name, and was linked to tampon use. Within four years, though, warnings were added to packaging, and women were instructed to change their tampons regularly. When the directions are followed carefully, the risk of developing TSS — even in the presence of staph bacteria — is greatly reduced.