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May 7, 1982

Tampon absorbency may 'culture' bacteria

JAMA. 1982;247(17):2339. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320420011005

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A possible breakthrough in determining why Rely brand tampons were associated with a greater risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) was reported recently by two New York City microbiologists.

Bruce A. Hanna, PhD, reported that he and colleague Philip Tierno, PhD, found that several characteristics of Rely combine to form an ideal growth substrate for Staphylococcus aureus, the causative organism for TSS.

First of all, a bacterial enzyme normally present in the vagina (β-glucosidase) breaks down Rely's superabsorbent material carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) to produce glucose, Hanna told JAMA MEDICAL NEWS.

In a laboratory experiment, the microbiologist inoculated Rely CMC with a small amount of β-glucosidase and a toxigenic strain of S aureus. "After 18 hours, we were able to get a two log increase in growth," he said.

Hanna, director of clinical microbiology at Bellevue Hospital, presented his and Tierno's findings at a recent meeting of the New York City branch