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Link in TSS testing leads to federal assistance

Posted at 10:21 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 06:38:05-05

KENT COUNTY, Mich. --It's a rare and sometimes deadly infection, toxic shock syndrome..

Although rare, a group of teenage girls in West Michigan were all diagnosed with the infection within the same month.

Last week, officials worked to connect the dots between those four locally reported cases of TSS.

As of Tuesday, the Kent County Health Department confirms they might have found the source, however, they said they’re not ready to release a definite link between the infection and a tampon brand quite yet.

Brian Hartl, an epidemiologist with the Kent County Health Department, told us they're looking into why this is happening and why West Michigan is seeing a spike in TSS.

"We know parents of teenage girls are concerned over this and they don’t want the same thing to happening to their child," Hartl said, "We’re just not sure why this is happening right now."

However, they do have an idea of where it may be coming from after finding a link in three of the four cases.

"At this point, we have three cases that have all used the same brand of tampon," Hartl said. "The state health department has submitted what’s called an FDA 'med watch,' which is kind of an adverse reporting system, to inform the FDA that we’ve had some cases associated with this brand of tampon."

That means three out of four West Michigan patients all used super-absorbent tampons and the exact same brand. Two of them were from Kent County and the other, Riley Whitten, from Montcalm County.

"The state has all they need to put this 'med watch' into the FDA to see if they have any other reports of similar cases throughout the country," Hartl said.

In the meantime, samples from each patient were sent to the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services lab for further testing.

"They’re doing some additional testing on those specimens to see if those are linked so they can see if those toxins are the same. That will provide us with some new information to see if, indeed, we’re dealing with the same toxin or type of toxin," Hartl said.

If the state finds those toxins came from the same strain of bacteria, Hartl said that will provide more evidence that these recent cases are linked to the product, opposed to the patient.

"It goes back to the preventative measures, using the tampons as directed, not leaving them in too long, not thinking a super can stay in there for a long time, making sure you have proper hygiene when inserting them and making sure you alternate out from tampons to pads," Hartl said.

The Kent County Health department has not reached out to tampon company to notify them of this. At this point, it's in the FDA's hands whether or not that needs to be done.

Hartl says they aren't releasing the brand's name yet because these tests are a part of a process in identifying how big of an issue this could be.

"We want to inform the public as well as possible but there are some things we can’t, we have to hold back, it sounds terrible, but it is what it is," Hartl said.

We're told the state test results could come back as soon as February 5.