Effect of non-absorbent intravaginal menstrual/contraceptive products on Staphylococcus aureus and production of the superantigen TSST-1

  • Patrick M. SchlievertEmail author
Original Article


Tampons are associated with toxic shock syndrome (mTSS). One reason for this association is oxygen introduction within tampons into the anaerobic vagina. Oxygen is required for Staphylococcus aureus to produce TSS toxin-1 (TSST-1). There have been changes in use of medical devices to control menstrual flow, including increased use of menstrual discs and cups. These devices composed of solid, flexible materials do not absorb menstrual fluid and thus do not trap oxygen. This study evaluates tampons and non-absorbent devices for effect on S. aureus and TSST-1 production. There are three in vitro tests to evaluate devices for effect on TSST-1 production: (1) stationary flask, (2) shake flask, and (3) tampon sac. In this study, 100% rayon and 100% cotton tampons with three absorbencies, contraceptive diaphragms, and menstrual discs and cups were tested for effect on S. aureus growth and TSST-1 production. Product composition did not affect bacterial growth or TSST-1 production. Tampons showed no effect on S. aureus growth compared with no-tampon controls, but tampons showed enhanced TSST-1 production as a function of trapped oxygen in stationary cultures and tampon sacs but not in shake flasks. The non-absorbent devices showed no enhanced S. aureus growth or TSST-1 production compared with no-device controls. These studies are consistent with the association of tampons with mTSS as a function of absorbency, but they suggest the occasional association of mTSS with non-absorbent devices may be coincidental as opposed to co-causative.


Menstrual toxic shock syndrome Staphylococcus aureus Menstrual tampons Diaphragms Menstrual discs Menstrual cups 


Funding information

This research was funded through a grant from the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Carver College of MedicineUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA

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