Mother develops life-threatening toxic shock syndrome from using tampon

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
Greta Zarate, 31, pictured with four of her five children. Photo: Mega

A mother has opened up about the frightening moment she developed toxic shock syndrome after using a tampon.

Greta Zarate, 32, developed flu-like symptoms during the first day of her period but four days later, she was rushed to hospital and admitted to an intensive care unit after experiencing a high fever and severely low blood pressure.

At first, the hospital was unable to identify the mother-of-five’s condition – even after an X-ray, ultrasounds, and a CT scan.

However, a vaginal swab later revealed toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, a potentially-fatal infection caused by bacterial toxins.

Greta’s body went into septic shock, causing her body’s vital organs to shut down.

“They said if I waited another day it could have had dire consequences,” said Greta, a stay-at-home mother.

"People who get toxic shock syndrome can end up losing limbs or even dying so I do feel so lucky.”

She had to stay in hospital for 11 days, undergoing a blood transfusion to restore her body’s red blood cells and to stop the infection spreading further through her blood stream.

During this time, her husband Cas Zarate, 30, a military logistics chief, was released from training to come and look after her.

Greta Zarate, 32, contracted a life-threatening blood infection that left her in intensive care for four days. Photo: Mega

It later emerged that she developed the condition after bacteria entered her bloodstream through microscopic cuts on her vaginal wall, caused by a super-absorbent tampon.

After her experience the mum decided to share her story and warn that using a “super” tampon can be a risk factor for TSS.

“There’s a misconception about toxic shock syndrome and tampons. There’s an idea that a tampon that’s been inside you for a long period of time causes this,” she said.

“I never knew that the size of the tampon should move with your flow. Like super tampons should only be for really heavy days, regular for normal days, and light for the end of your flow.

“When you pull a dry tampon out of your body, it actually leaves tiny scrapes on your vaginal wall which allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream and that's what happened to me.

“I change my tampon every time I use the bathroom, so I knew it wasn’t because I had left it in there for a long, long time.”

Signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome, often shortened to TSS, is “a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins,” according to the UK’s NHS website.

“It's often associated with tampon use in young women, but it can affect anyone of any age – including men and children,” according to the site.

“TSS gets worse very quickly and can be fatal if not treated promptly. But if it's diagnosed and treated early, most people make a full recovery.”

Symptoms include a high temperature; flu-like symptoms; feeling or being sick; diarrhoea; a widespread sunburn-like rash; lips, tongue or whites of the eyes turning bright red; dizziness or fainting; difficulty breathing; confusion.

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