GREENVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) – Health officials in West Michigan are concerned after four teenage girls came down with toxic shock syndrome this year.
The Kent County Health Department said there have been four recent cases in West Michigan. Two of them are in Kent County and one in Mason County. The fourth was in Montcalm County, involving 15-year-old Rylie Whitten, who had one of the most severe cases doctors had seen.
“As we saw with the local case in Greenville, she had a very severe case of toxic shock syndrome,” said Brian Hartl of the Kent County Health Department. “The other cases in Kent County weren’t that severe, but it can be very life-threatening. We don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or it’s a true reason behind this cluster of cases.”
Rylie began struggling with TSS early last month, but her parents thought she had the flu.
“She just came home Sunday night ad she wasn’t feeling well so she took a bath and went to bed, and it’s like she had the flu. She stayed home from school with body aches and still wasn’t feeling well that night, and the next morning I called her doctor and said it sounds like the viral flu and I told them her symptoms and that’s what they went by. Later that night, it got worse and we decided to take her to the ER and from there, they did a flu swab and that came back negative. And then they thought maybe viral meningitis and that was negative. And they took blood samples and her blood pressure was really low so then right there, it was Aero Med,” said Jill Williams, Rylie’s mother.
Rylie spent weeks in the hospital fighting the illness.
“It was so many ups and downs that we had to deal with,” Williams said.
“They kept her alive just by using medicines. The doctors came to us at that point saying, ‘This will end her life,’” Nathan Whitten, Rylie’s father, said.
Rylie’s story has been making headlines all over the country as she made a quicker recovery than doctors expected, but health officials say three other teenage girls also suffered from the illness within the last year.
Health officials said all of the four girls used super-absorbent tampons, which could be key.
“That’s kind of sparked our interest in that association. Three of the cases used the same brand; the other case used a separate brand. We can’t release anything about the brand at this point, but we know they were super-absorbency tampons. We’re still looking for an association. We aren’t ready to go forth and say this brand of tampons caused this because you can understand the implications of doing that,” Hartl said.
Hartl said women should be mindful of the tampons they are using.
“I think the main issue here is super-absorbency tampons and those are the ones that have been associated historically with toxic shock syndrome. If you have a chance to use a less absorbency tampon, that would be a recommendation,” he said.
The state Department of Health and Human Services has been involved in the investigation and submitted a med report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to see if they find any other cases around the country involving the tampon brands. They also submitted information to the Centers for Disease Control.
DHHS told 24 Hour News 8 that statewide, there were six TSS cases in 2012, eight in 2013, four in 2014, seven in 2015 and three in 2016 — though the 2015 and 2016 numbers have not yet been finalized. There were also nine case of streptococcal toxic shock in 2012, 10 in 2013, four in 2014, 1 in 2015 and one in 2016. Again, the 2015 and 2016 cases have not yet been finalized.
Rylie can only speak in a whisper due to a collapsed vocal cord from the illness, but her family is thankful that she’s back home.
“Just out of the blue, it kind of hits you how lucky we are. It’s tears of joy at this point,” Nathan Whitten said.