TSS was first discovered in 1978. Although the infection is commonly known as the ‘tampon disease,” it was first identified in boys and non-menstruating girls. However, 65-75% of TSS cases are related to menstruation. Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) referred to it as ‘Staphylococcus Toxic Shock Syndrome’ because they suspected that the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria was responsible.
In 1980, Dr. Andy Dean reported 9 cases of a disease in women in Minnesota and Wisconsin to the CDC. All the women had an infection during the onset of or during their menstrual cycle. The CDC connected the symptoms to similar ones reported in 1978. At this time, they also discovered the link between infections and the use of superabsorbent tampons. After this discovery, there were widespread awareness campaigns and changes to the way tampons were made.
At the time, certain tampons were made with polyester foam or carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), which increased the risk of bacterial infection. In particular, they were prime growing conditions for S.aureus, which then produced the toxin responsible for TSS.
In 1981, scientists found a specific type strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria responsible for symptoms of TSS. They named it toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSS-1). While menstruating women were most affected, TSS can also occur in men, children, and non-menstruating women (like post-menopausal women).
Tampon manufacturers have changed the way they make tampons, and the risk of TSS has decreased significantly. However, TSS warnings continue to be included in tampon boxes even today.