Fact Check

Recalled Tampons Result in Bloody Exodus of Ants from Body

A chilling account of a gruesome illness caused by recalled tampons is merely a work of horror fiction.

Published Oct. 17, 2016

A woman who used a recalled brand of tampons saw herself become infested with ants and had to be treated with a grotesque fungus that turned those ants into zombies.

On August 8, 2016, the Thought Catalog web site published a piece of fiction written by by horror writer E. Z. Morgan titled “I Was Offered a **Very** Generous Settlement Not to Tell You the Disgusting Truth of the Tampon Recall.” The tale, which originally appeared in the horror story subreddit /r/nosleep in January 2016, was told from the perspective of a woman who became ill after using what she later found out to be a contaminated tampon, was treated with a **very** unorthodox ‘drug’, and was offered a substantial bribe to keep quiet about her experience:

I have decided to document my exact experience, in case something even worse starts to happen. I bet a lot of you reading this have had a similar experience with the recall. If so, please let me know. You are not alone. I live in America so I can only speak to my own experience, although I know similar events occurred in the UK, Canada, and other countries.

I was offered large sums of money to keep my story quiet. We all were. But I am not taking their money. Women died because of this. I saw a woman waste away in front of me and they want me to shut up? Never. I don’t care what happens now.

But readers need have no fear this might happen to them or someone they know. The story was plainly tagged as fiction, and the author of the post, as she noted on her Facebook page, is described as someone who likes to make us uncomfortable:

E.Z. Morgan (EZmisery) looks like an adorable librarian but writes stories that will keep you up at night.

If you’re wondering about the plausibility of the scenario described in this story — becoming infected with flesh-eating ants from a tampon only to be treated with a fungus that turns said ants into zombies fleeing your body any way they can — it’s pretty low. Still, it is rooted in some actual science.

The “medicine” the doctor gave the story’s victim was “Ophiocordyceps unilateralis,” a real organism that scientists classify as an emtomopahogenic fungus — a spooky class of fungi that changes the behavior of its host. This fungus does actually infect the brain of ants in the way described in the story, as described in a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology:

Infected ants develop erratic behaviors that include leaving their nests and foraging trails. They climb trees or shrubs and hang themselves upside down under the leaves by biting the leaves with their mandibles and remain there until death.

This process of behavior alteration allows the fungi to move to a location that will maximize their ability to disperse spores and infect more hosts. It is, however, a near impossibility that either the fungus or ants zombified by the fungus would actually survive inside a human body, since both are adapted to very specific environments.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.