New Tampon Cuts Toxic Shock Risk

Fiber Finish Reduces Production of Disease-Causing Toxin, Researchers Say

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 18, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 18, 2007 (Chicago) -- Researchers have developed a novel tampon that appears to cut the risk of menstrual toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

The key to its success: a fiber finish called glycerol monolaurate (GML) that reduces the production of the toxin that causes menstrual TSS, says researcher Pat Schlievert, MD, a professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.

His team’s study of more than 200 women also showed that the new coating promotes vaginal health, facilitating an environment with a protective bacterial balance, he tells WebMD.

Manufacturer Johnson & Johnson hopes to have it on the market in the near future, Schlievert says.

The study was presented at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

Cases of Menstrual TSS on the Rise

Menstrual TSS grabbed headlines in the late 1970s and 1980s after the deaths of several young women who were using a brand of superabsorbent tampon that was later removed from the market.

At the time, there were about 10 cases per 100,000 per year, Schlievert says. While no longer as common, menstrual TSS is still a problem, with about two to three cases per 100,000 women per year, he says. The incidence has risen slightly over the past seven years, he adds.

The condition is brought on by the release of toxins from an overgrowth of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly found in many women, especially during menstruation. The toxins enter the blood and can cause a sharp drop in blood pressure that deprives vital organs of oxygen and can lead to death.

Several years ago, lab studies showed that GML, a widely used emulsifier in cosmetics and food, inhibited the production of those toxins by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the test tube.

The idea behind the GML-coated tampons is to add a finish that prevents the toxin from ever being made, Schlievert says.

Coated Tampons Cut Toxin Production

The new study involved 225 menstruating women who used their own tampon followed by a test tampon that may or may not have had a GML coating. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which test tampon the women received.

When the tampons were removed and the code was broken, results showed that the GML-coated tampons contained significantly fewer toxins than the non-coated test tampons or the women’s own tampons.

Scott M. Hammer, MD, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Columbia University in New York City and chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting, says the idea behind the new tampon is simple, but ingenious.

“What they’ve done is use bioengineering to interact with the molecular mechanism of a disease-causing bacterium, thereby cutting down on the risk of a potentially fatal infectious disease,” he tells WebMD.

Johnson & Johnson funded the study.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 47th International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), Chicago, Sept. 17-20, 2007. Pat Schlievert, MD, professor of microbiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Scott M. Hammer, MD, chairman, 47th ICAAC Program Committee; chief, division of infectious diseases, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York City.

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