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Use Clue to track your period—and to get a reminder when your next one is due.

Since their invention, tampons have been the subject of moral panic, health scares, tax protests and ridiculous advertising.

There are many myths and misconceptions about tampons:

  • Can you lose your virginity by wearing a tampon?

  • Can a tampon fall out?

  • What happens if you leave a tampon in too long?

Read on for the answers.

Tampons and your body

Does it hurt to insert or remove a tampon?

It shouldn’t hurt. You might want to try different types of tampons—with or without an applicator—to see which you prefer. Sometimes it’s slightly uncomfortable to insert or remove a tampon simply because your vagina is dry, or your flow is very light.

Using a small amount of water-based lubricant should help relieve the dryness and make it easier for the tampon or applicator to slide in. If you notice a dry, uncomfortable feeling when removing your tampon, try switching to a lighter absorbency type. If you continue to experience vaginal pain when using tampons, see your healthcare provider.

Should I be able to feel a tampon inside me?

No. When a tampon is inserted correctly (pushed far enough in) you won’t be able to feel it. Tampons are designed to be worn in the upper part of the vagina, the part furthest away from the vaginal opening. If you can feel your tampon, try pushing it in a little further.

Can a tampon get “lost” inside me?

No. The cervix (at the end of the vagina) only has a tiny opening to allow blood or semen through. If you are having difficulty removing your tampon, try pushing—as if you were about to poop. It may help if you squat rather than sitting or standing. Move your fingers around the inside of your vagina and try to feel towards the top and back. Once you can feel the tampon or tampon string, grab it between your fingers and pull it out.

Can a tampon “fall out”?

Not usually. When a tampon is properly inserted (pushed in far enough), your vagina naturally holds the tampon in place, even if you are running or doing something active. If you are pushing hard while pooping, your tampon might fall out. If that happens, insert a new one.

Can I lose my virginity by inserting a tampon?

No. Virginity is not something physical or medical. It’s a cultural idea, about which many people have different definitions and opinions. Concepts of virginity are sometimes linked with the idea that your vaginal opening is covered by a membrane, often referred to as the hymen, that is “broken” by vaginal sex.

The vaginal corona (also known as the hymen) consists of thin folds of mucous tissue located 1–2 centimeters just inside the vaginal opening (1). Anna Knöfel Magnusson of the RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) wrote about it in the booklet Vaginal Corona: Myths surrounding virginity:

“Every corona looks different, and differs in size, colour and shape. It is slightly pink, almost transparent, and may resemble the petals of a flower, a jigsaw piece or a half-moon. In the vast majority of cases, it is elastic and stretchy. Very rarely, the mucous tissue folds may cover the entire vaginal opening. In that case, it might be necessary to see a gynecologist and have the vaginal corona opened to release menstrual blood, to enable insertion of a tampon or penetrative sex.” —Anna Knöfel, Vaginal Corona: Myths surrounding virginity

The vaginal corona can be gradually diminished by basic daily physical activity, not just by inserting things (like tampons, menstrual cups, toys, or fingers) into the vagina. The hormonal changes that occur as people mature through puberty can also change the shape and flexibility of the vaginal corona (2).

Regardless of whether you use tampons or not, your vaginal corona (if you had one to begin with) will wear away over time. The anatomy and purpose of the vaginal corona is not very well understood, and more research is needed.

Tampons and your health

Will tampons give me Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Probably not, but it’s good to be informed. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare condition affecting around 1 in 100,000 menstruating people (3). More than half of reported TSS cases are associated with tampon use, but it can affect people of any age—including men and children. Wearing a tampon for a long duration of time (over 8 hours) is associated with TSS (4). The symptoms of TSS start suddenly and can get worse quickly.

TSS can be fatal if not treated promptly, so it’s important to know the symptoms (5,6):

– A high temperature (fever) of 102.2F (39C) or above – Flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, chills, muscle aches, a sore throat and a cough – Feeling and being sick – Diarrhea – A widespread sunburn-like rash – The whites of the eyes, lips and tongue turning a bright red – Dizziness or fainting – Breathing difficulties – Confusion, drowsiness, loss of consciousness

TSS is a medical emergency. While these symptoms could be due an illness other than TSS, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider or hospital as soon as possible if you have a combination of these symptoms. It’s very unlikely that you have TSS, but these symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. If you have severe symptoms or your symptoms are getting rapidly worse, then go to your nearest hospital or call for an ambulance immediately.

How can I reduce my chances of getting TSS?

Use lower-absorbency tampons and change them more often, and avoid leaving a tampon in for more than 8 hours. Alternately, you can use a different menstrual product, like pads or a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups are not considered a TSS risk. There has been only one documented case of TSS linked with using a menstrual cup, and this occurred when a woman scratched the inside of her vagina while inserting the cup (7).

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When to change your tampon

How often should I change a tampon?

The best way to know if your tampon needs changing is to give a light pull on the tampon string. If it starts to pull out easily, then it’s time to change it; if not, it usually means you can leave it a bit longer. Do not leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours as this increases the risk for developing Toxic Shock Syndrome (8).

A fully saturated light tampon can hold up to 3 mL of fluid, while a fully saturated super tampon may hold up to 12 mL (9,10). A normal amount of blood loss per period is between 5 mL to 80 mL (11).

If you are repeatedly soaking through a tampon or pad every two hours, this is considered heavymenstrual bleeding and should be brought to your healthcare provider’s attention.

Can you pee with a tampon in?

Yes. You don’t need to change your tampon every time you pee, although you might want to tuck the string into your vagina or hold it out of the way so you don’t get urine on it. This is just for personal comfort—it’s unlikely that would you experience health issues from accidentally urinating on the tampon string.

Some people poop while wearing a tampon, while others chose to change their tampon after they poop—both of these options are fine. When pooping with a tampon in, be careful not to get any poop on the string. Bacteria that live in your intestines can cause urethral and bladder infections (12).

Can you flush tampons down the toilet?

It’s better not to flush tampons. Tampons are made to absorb liquid and expand, so they can clog toilets and pipes—especially if the plumbing is old, or if it’s a low-flow toilet, or a septic tank arrangement. Most tampons are not biodegradable, and even those that are do not break down in the wastewater system. For your plumbing and the environment, the safest option is to wrap the tampon (and applicator) in toilet paper and throw it in the trash.

Is it OK to use tampons when…

Can I use tampons during my first period?

Yes. If you want to, you can use tampons from the beginning of your first period. Just check the instructions or ask for tips from a family member, healthcare provider, or friend. Choose the right absorbency for your flow (mini or small for not much blood, normal or super if you have more blood).

If you have any trouble inserting the tampon, you could try using one with an applicator, or add a small amount of water-based lubricant to the tampon to help it slide in easier.

Can you shower with a tampon in?

Yes. You can wear a tampon in the shower or bath. Tampons (and menstrual cups) are also great options for swimming during your period.

If you can’t or don’t want to use them, you have a few other options too: If your flow is light, you can wear absorbent swimwear or a dark colored suit to prevent stains. Waterproof absorbent swimwear looks like regular bikini bottoms but has a hidden, leak-proof lining that helps absorb menstrual blood. You can wear a pad before and after swimming.

Do tampons expire?

Yes. The shelf life of tampons is around five years, if they are kept in their packaging and stored in a dry environment. They are sanitary but not sterile, so if they are stored in a moist place—like your bathroom—bacteria and mold can grow.

The most important thing to pay attention to is the packaging: Do you have an “emergency tampon” that’s been rolling around inside your bag for weeks, and the wrapper is damaged? If so, don’t use it—a tampon that is moldy or dirty may cause a vaginal infection. If you notice any itching or irritation after using tampons, see your healthcare provider.

Is it OK to use tampons if you have an IUD?

Yes. Immediately after insertion of an IUD you may experience some bleeding—do not use tampons for this bleeding. After this insertion bleeding is finished, it’s fine to use tampons or a menstrual cup if you have an IUD. The IUD threads extend just a few centimeters from the cervix, so they should not interfere at all with tampon insertion and removal.

Article was originally published August 29, 2018

How often should I change my pad or tampon during menstruation?

You should change a pad before it becomes soaked with blood. Each woman decides for herself what works best. You should change a tampon at least every 4 to 8 hours. Make sure to use the lowest absorbency tampon needed for your flow. For example, use junior or regular tampons on the lightest day of your period. Using a super absorbency tampon on your lightest days increases your risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare but sometimes deadly disease. TSS is caused by bacteria that can produce toxins. If your body can’t fight the toxins, your immune (body defense) system reacts and causes the symptoms of TSS.

Young women may be more likely to get TSS. Using any kind of tampon puts you at greater risk for TSS than using pads. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the following tips to help avoid tampon problems:

Follow package directions for insertion. Choose the lowest absorbency for your flow. Change your tampon at least every 4 to 8 hours. Consider switching between pads and tampons. Know the warning signs of TSS (see below). Don’t use tampons between periods
If you have any of these symptoms of TSS while using tampons, take the tampon out, and contact your doctor right away: • Sudden high fever (over 102 degrees)
• Muscle aches
• Diarrhea
• Vomiting
• Dizziness and/or fainting
• Sunburn-like rash
• Sore throat
• Bloodshot eyes
This answer is based on source information from the National Womens Health Information Center.

What Size Tampon Do I Need? It Depends From Person To Person

We’ve all heard tampon horror stories, whether its getting toxic shock syndrome, forgetting a tampon for days, or even leaving a tampon in during sex. Thankfully, your chances of having health complications because of tampons are pretty slim, and they remain a popular menstrual hygiene option — a 2015 study found that 70 percent of women use tampons. Still, I avoided tampons until I was out of college because I was terrified of doing something wrong. My fears weren’t entirely irrational: If you don’t know what size tampons you need, you may be facing unnecessary stress on your period. It can be overwhelming to look at the tampon aisle at a supermarket and decide whether you need junior, super plus or something in between. If you’ve bought one tampon size and sworn off tampons as a result, it may be time to try again. So what tampon size should you be using? It really does depend.

Tampons aren’t supposed to hurt, and you shouldn’t be able to feel them once they’re inserted. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, you should pick the smallest-size tampon available when you’re just starting out. You don’t have to use tampons when you’re menstruating, and some people are simply more comfortable with other menstrual hygiene products like pads, menstrual cups, or even period underwear. But if you do want to use tampons, you can make the experience super easy as long as you do some research beforehand.

You Should Be Comfortable

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We’ve already talked about tampons being comfortable, but I have to reiterate it: If you’re using the wrong-sized tampon, you are going to feel pain when you walk, sit down or attempt any sudden movements. I had so much discomfort the first time I used a tampon that I wondered whether my friends who swore by tampons were trolling me. It turns out I was using a tampon that was way too big for my flow. Knowing how tampons work can also give you an idea of what size might work best for you. Your tampon sits in your vaginal canal and expands when it feels moisture. If you’re using a tampon that’s too big, it’ll likely still be pretty dry when it’s time for removal, which can lead to pain.

You Shouldn’t Be Changing It All The Time

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You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t leave your tampon in for more than eight hours, but how long should it stay up there? Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and Assistant Professor at Rowan University, told Bustle in 2016 that changing a tampon every four to eight hours is reasonable, although some doctors recommend changing it at least every six hours. If you’re changing your tampon more frequently than that, you may be using a tampon absorbency that’s too weak for your flow. Try moving up to a bigger size and see what happens. (If you’re still changing your tampon every two hours or less, it may be time to talk to a doctor just to make sure everything’s okay.)

You Should Be Leak-Free

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According to Kotex, tampons leak if they aren’t the right fit for your vagina or the tampon is getting full before you have a chance to change it. If you have a heavy flow, you may be more comfortable pairing a pad and tampon to avoid any leaking, or a tampon and period underwear to avoid stains, but a tampon that fits correctly should absorb all of your menstrual blood without leaks.

Going to the bathroom and seeing blood stains in your underwear is the worst, but being prepared for leaks can help you avoid any mishaps. If you go up a tampon size and you’re still leaking, it may be time to wear a pad or check out another kind of period protection like a menstrual cup. Tampons may seem mystifying if you haven’t found the right one for you, but all it takes is a bit of trial and error.

You think you know all of the tampon rules, but you could be wrong. Here, the common mistakes people make while using them and what to do to keep your vagina free of infection and feeling good.

1. You only wash your hands after insertion.

Washing your hands before you get all up in there helps prevent contaminating your tampon on its way to your vagina, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a Westchester, New York-based gynecologist and co-author of The Complete A to Z for Your V.

2. You don’t insert the tampon far enough.

You’ll know because you’ll feel it: A too-shallow tampon will be super uncomfortable — you may even feel the cotton edge at the entrance to the vagina, Dr. Dweck says. (You shouldn’t sense anything when it’s properly positioned.)

3. You only use one absorbency level of tampon.

Although unlikely, tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially deadly disease. Higher-absorbency tampons increase the risk of TSS, according to the Mayo Clinic, so it’s smart to use them only when you absolutely need to stop a super-heavy flow, Dr. Dweck says. The amount of blood can change from day to day throughout your period. Though supers might be a godsend on days one and two of your cycle, you’ll want to switch to a regular or light-absorbency product toward the end of the week.

It’s also worth noting that using a super-absorbent tampon when you have a lighter flow can dry out your vaginal tissue, says Dr. Lona Prasad, M.D., a gynecologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. In fact, researchers found that vaginal dryness was closely linked to women who used super-absorbent tampons, according to a study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. That dryness can create tears or cracks in your vaginal walls, which increase your risk of infection, she says.

4. You only change your tampon once a day.

Even with a light flow, you should change that bad boy every four to eight hours, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That’s because a moist tampon makes a warm, cozy home for bacteria. And the longer it’s in there, the greater your risk of TSS, Dr. Dweck says.

5. You use tampons to plug discharge.

Although it’s normal to experience discharge in the middle of your cycle, you shouldn’t need a tampon at that point. Stick it in, and you could disrupt the healthy vaginal bacteria that produce lactic acid, says Dr. Dweck. Reducing the vagina’s acidity can allow harmful bacteria to thrive and cause an infection, like bacterial vaginosis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If discharge still feels excessive, don’t just cork it; go to your doctor to get checked out.

6. You use a tampon the day after your period ends (just in case!).

Because pulling a dry piece of cotton out of an equally parched vagina can be more than a little uncomfortable, you should avoid this unnecessary precaution and pop in a pantyliner instead, Dr. Dweck says.

7. You don’t change your tampon after you pee…on it.

From a medical perspective, you don’t have to change your tampon every single time you relieve yourself, Dr. Dweck says. From a practical point of view: Who wants a soaking-wet string hanging out down there?

8. You don’t change your tampon after you poop.

If that string picks up any bacteria, it easily could infect the urethra, Dr. Dweck says. Another thing: Moving your bowels can sometimes dislodge a tampon, which could make leaving it in uncomfortable.

9. You forget to take it out.

Yes, this happens IRL. If you develop a horrible odor that can’t otherwise be explained, use a clean finger to feel around for a tampon. If for some reason you can’t pull it out, see a doctor, says Dr. Dweck.

10. You don’t change your tampon after swimming.

When you take a dip, so does your tampon. A string that’s laced with chlorine, saltwater, or lake water can cause skin irritation if you don’t change it quickly, Dr. Dweck says. The good news is that normal bacteria found in a body of water — or even a hot tub — likely won’t cause an infection, she says.

11. You use tampons with torn wrappers.

Tampon wrappers are designed to keep out dust, dirt, and makeup bits that live at the bottom of your bag or anywhere else you store them. When that wrapping rips, the cotton could pick up little debris that don’t belong in your vagina, Dr. Dweck says.

12. You flush the applicator.

Unless there’s a super hot plumber you’ve been dying to call, keep the applicator out of the toilet.

13. You throw out tampons because you think they’ve expired.

As long as the packaging is intact (see above), old tampons are perfectly safe to use, says Dr. Dweck.

14. You store them right between your shower and your toilet.

The wrapper and tampon itself will stay fresher longer if you keep it dry, Dr. Dweck says.

15. You use scented tampons.

Some women can react to the fragrance in scented tampons, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the worst-case scenario, you might experience irritation or an urge to itch. It’s why Dr. Dweck recommends unscented products — just in case.

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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more. Ashley Oerman Deputy Lifestyle Director Ashley Oerman is the deputy lifestyle director at Cosmopolitan, covering fitness, health, food, cocktails, home, and entertainment.

  • It’s common to keep tampons in for longer than tampon box instructions say — but doctors say that’s not a great idea.
  • If a tampon stays in the vagina for too long, it can cause healthy bacteria to become dangerous.
  • Doctors recommend changing tampons every four to eight hours to prevent excessive bacteria growth, which can cause bacterial vaginosis or, in some cases, toxic shock syndrome.

All tampon users know that you’re supposed to change your tampon periodically, which, according to tampon manufacturers, is every eight hours. But sometimes, life gets in the way of your changes: You’re wearing a jumpsuit and don’t feel like going to the bathroom; you’re stuck on a long car ride and don’t want to stop; or you’re just feeling lazy and forget to go to the bathroom while binge-watching “Terrace House” for 10 hours straight. Even though you may be able to pull off wearing the same tampon for more than the allotted time, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Normally, your vagina contains a certain amount of bacteria, which helps it stay balanced and happy. But if the bacteria suddenly gets more nutrients and grows too much, or if it starts growing in places it doesn’t belong, then the otherwise healthy bacteria can become dangerous. And, as it turns out, “a blood-soaked tampon that lingers for a long time is like a petri dish for bacteria,” says Katharine O’Connell White, MD, MPH, director, Fellowship in Family Planning, department of OB-GYN at Boston University, Boston Medical Center. “All of the sudden, bacteria that wouldn’t hurt you on most days has a thriving environment to grow,” she says.

You should change tampons every four to eight hours. ssuaphotos/

When there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina, then it can lead to a vaginal infection, like bacterial vaginosis, Dr. White says. Bacterial vaginosis is not ideal, because it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like itching, discharge, and odor — but it is treatable. In very rare cases, if the type of bacteria called Staphylococcus grows, then it can release toxins that cause toxic shock syndrome, she says. “The risk of toxic shock syndrome is not high, but it is real,” she says.

Ideally, you should change your tampon before the bacteria has a chance to colonize, Dr. White says. “The more frequently you change them, the fresher they are, and the less likely the bacteria will grow,” she says. You should always follow the instructions that come with your tampons, which usually state that you can leave it in for four to eight hours, although Dr. White says that eight hours is really pushing it. And if you’re sleeping more than eight hours, then you should just use a pad so you don’t have to worry about changing it at night, she says.

If you’re the type to rely on a super tampon to last you all day, that’s not a great idea either. According to Dr. White, that’s the “exact opposite of what you should be doing for best vaginal health.” With a super tampon, there’s more opportunities for bacteria to grow, because it’s left inside of you longer, she says. And if you pull out a dry super tampon, then it can lead to micro-tears on the inside of your vagina. “It’s a tiny cut that you wouldn’t notice, but it is big enough for bacteria to get into,” she says.

In general, Dr. White’s advice is typically to “slenderize your tampon game,” and use the smallest one that you can get away with. If your flow is light enough that you can get away with just a panty liner, do that, she says. (And definitely never use a tampon to manage vaginal discharge, which she says some people do.)

So, the bottom line to remember: “We don’t want to leave anything in your vagina longer than it needs to be,” Dr. White says. Even menstrual cups, which claim they can be in for up to 12 hours, shouldn’t be used for more than eight hours. “Treat it like a tampon and don’t leave it in very long,” she says. You may need to end up taking more bathroom trips, but the good news is you can get back to doing whatever you were before you were rudely interrupted by your bleeding uterus.

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That moment when you realize that your tampon has been in for too long? Total panic sets in. All of a sudden it feels like you’re carrying a ticking time bomb in your vagina. Questions like, Did I break my lady parts? Will I turn into a pool of period blood? Will I die?!?! suddenly seem perfectly reasonable.

But, actually, you can relax, says Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University. (Well, first make sure you take out the tampon that’s been working overtime — then relax.) There’s a good chance that nothing really bad will happen. “Likely, nothing will happen if you leave your tampon in for too long,” she says. “But still, it’s best not to make a habit of it.”

So while you can breathe a sigh of relief that you didn’t do any major damage to your reproductive system, here are some things you could experience.

1. A Dry Spell

Once you become aware that your tampon has been soaking up blood for an hour (or five) too long, the last thing that’s probably on your mind is vaginal dryness. “But, actually, it’s one of the major problems with over-extended tampon use,” Minkin says. “If a tampon is left in too long, the surrounding tissue can become very dry, which can lead to discomfort.”

If this is your situation, give yourself some tampon-free time and opt for a pad instead — your vagina could use a little break, Minkin recommends. Also, use some lube (you have some in your drawer, right?) to re-wet the area and help ease any annoying discomfort.

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2. A Funky Odor

To keep it completely real, things may start to smell…fishy. When women leave a tampon in for too long and they need to see a doctor to have it removed, the scent is so recognizable that doctors often know what the problem is before you even have to explain it, Minkin says.

The blood itself doesn’t smell, but when it starts interacting with your body’s bacteria, it develops an odor. The longer you wear a tampon, the more bacteria that’s present, and, well, the smellier the situation gets.

3. A Serious Infection

Chances are you’ve heard about toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially fatal illness caused by a buildup of bacteria from leaving in tampon for a prolonged period of time — and your mind probably went there the second you realized you hadn’t changed your tampon. But there are only about 1 to 17 reported cases per 100,000 menstruating females per year, Playtex notes on its website, with teenagers and women under 30 being at a higher risk. It’s very unlikely that you’ve contracted it, Minkin says, but in case your fears have not been allayed, here’s what you should know: TSS symptoms include a high fever, low blood pressure, and skin that looks like it was scalded by boiling water. If you exhibit any of these signs, definitely talk to a doctor.

4. Some Discharge

If you’ve been wearing a regular tampon for way longer than you should have been on a heavy day, the obvious thing that’s going to happen is leaks! Aside from the occasional gush of blood, you may also notice a brown, watery discharge if you’ve been wearing your tampon for more than 12 hours, Minkin says. The older menstrual blood is, the less bright red and more dull brown in color it is. So if you’ve been wearing a tampon for too long, you may notice brownish leaks.

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5. Absolutely Nothing

Aside from feeling completely anxious and stress eating the entire box of donuts your coworker brought in, what will likely happen? Nothing. If it’s only been an hour or two past the recommended eight hours and you feel fine, change your tampon and get on with it. However, if you left it in for over a day or two (yes, it happens), you could schedule a visit with your gyno. She may want to do a culture to make sure there isn’t any bacteria floating around and put you on an antibiotic as a precaution.

As a refresher, here are some good tampon tenets to follow to avoid any mishaps: For a regular flow, change your tampon every eight hours — or more frequently if it’s a heavy day — and if you’re always blanking on how long your tampon has been in, download an app to help remind you, like Tampon Timer.

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