Local tampons free of toxic fibre

South African tampon manufacturers say they do not use the fibre believed to cause toxic shock syndrome — the mystery disease which has killed several US women — but they are coy about what fibres they do use.

Research in the US by Tambrands, the company which manufactures Tampax, has isolated chemical fibres which could lead to the absorption of magnesium. This may provide an environment for the bacteria which cause toxic shock to flourish.

The chemical is polyacrylate rayon and was found in the super-absorbency size of some well-known brands of tampon in the United States, including Tampax. The three tampon brands available in South Africa are: Tampax, made by Tambrands; Liletts, made by Smith and Nephew; and Amira, made by Johnson and Johnson. Proctor and Gamble’s Rely, the brand in the United States which was associated most frequently with women’s deaths from toxic shock syndrome, is not available in South Africa.

However, the managing director of Tambrands in South Africa, who did not want his name used told Weekly Mail that Tambrands had removed its Tampax super-absorbency tampon from the US market when the research showed the fibre could be a cause of toxic shock syndrome. He said the locally made Tampax had never contained polyacrylate rayon but were manufactured from a pure rayon supplied by the British firm Cortaulds.

This was a viscose, he said, and was made from wood pulp. Although it was eventually manmade it was a “natural fibre”. He was unwilling to give any more detail about the nature of the fibre used in the manufacture of Tampax locally and said he could not answer “your questions because I don’t know the answers”. When it was put to him that it was only fair that worried women should have an opportunity to set their minds at rest, he said he did not accept that.

Vibeka Thygesen from Smith and Nephew said Liletts tampons used only pure cotton in its product and that its super-absorbency size was determined by the size of the tampon and had no chemical-fibre to increase the absorbency. The Research and Development director of Johnson and Johnson, Colin Clayson, said there was no super-absorbency size Amira and that no super-absorbency chemical was used in the other sizes.

Clayson said only pure cellulose like rayon or cotton was used in Amira but he, too, was reluctant to be more specific about the fibre used in Amira. However he explained that rayon or cotton was a pure cellulose. The problems began when chemical fibres such as polyacrylate were added as they increased the absorbency a great deal and could provide a climate for the bacteria to flourish.

For the record, despite the controversy and initial ignorance about toxic shock, only Tampax puts warnings into its packages drawing attention to the possibility of toxic shock. However, the warning in South African packages is somewhat less prominent than the one in US packages.

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Pat Sidley
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