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The Last of Us: The Reality Of A Cordyceps Pandemic

The Last of Us is a haunting tale of a world ravaged by a fungal infection that has turned most of humanity into mindless, zombie-like creatures. The game has garnered numerous awards and has become a staple of the gaming community and the TV series seems to be set for the same reaction, but could the events of The Last of Us ever occur in the real world? In this blog post, we delve into the science behind the fungal infection in the game and explore the possibility of a similar outbreak happening in reality.

Cordyceps Fungus

The fungal infection in The Last of Us is rooted in the genus of fungi known as Cordyceps, which has a natural tendency to infect insects and other small organisms. In the game, this fungus has undergone a mutation, transforming it into a deadly pathogen that can infect and control human behaviour

Now for a little information on the fungus!

The Cordyceps fungus is a tiny but mighty force of nature, a parasite that exerts a strange and profound influence over the minds of it's hosts. At the heart of the Cordyceps mind control lies a simple but elegant mechanism: infection. The fungus infiltrates the body of its host, usually an insect, and begins to grow, feeding on its host's nutrients and slowly taking over its mind.

An illustration of Cordceps infecting a caterpillar

The first signs of this takeover are subtle: a change in behaviour, a loss of coordination, an increased vulnerability to predators. But as the fungus grows, it's control over the host becomes more and more complete, until the host becomes little more than a puppet, acting out the will of the fungus.

The exact nature of this control is not fully understood, but scientists have uncovered some tantalising clues. They have discovered that the fungus produces chemicals that alter the behaviour of its host, manipulating its instincts and drives, directing it towards specific actions that serve the interests of the fungus.

One of the most remarkable examples of this manipulation is the way the Cordyceps fungus causes its host to climb to the top of a blade of grass or a stalk of a plant, where it can release its spores into the air, allowing the fungus to spread to new hosts. In effect, the host becomes a vehicle for the fungus's reproductive success.

The Cordyceps mind control is a powerful reminder of the incredible adaptability and cunning of nature, and of the ways in which even the smallest creatures can exert a profound influence over the world around them. It is a warning, too, of the dangers of underestimating the power of nature and the vital importance of preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

Now this begs the question, could a fungal Infection Like The Last of Us Occur in Reality?

Well there have in fact been a few cases in the past where a fungal infection has been of serious concern within humans. he most notable one, perhaps, is the emergence of the fungal disease known as "Cryptococcus neoformans" in the late 19th century. This insidious pathogen, which is commonly found in soil and bird droppings, can cause severe respiratory infections and meningitis in people with weakened immune systems.

Cryptococcus neoformans fungus

In the early days of the outbreak, the disease was largely confined to people with advanced stages of tuberculosis, but it soon began to spread to the general population, affecting people from all walks of life. The symptoms of cryptococcal infection were often misdiagnosed as tuberculosis or other forms of pneumonia, and the disease was often not treated until it was too late.

As the epidemic continued to spread, medical experts became increasingly concerned about the potential for a global pandemic, particularly given the high mortality rates associated with the disease. Despite the efforts of health professionals and scientists, however, the disease continues to be a major public health threat to this day, with an estimated 1 million new cases reported each year.

In the case of Cordyceps, if it were to mutate and gain the ability to infect humans, the consequences could be nothing short of catastrophic. This fungus will quickly exert it's signature characteristic of manipulating the behavior of its host, turning once healthy humans into zombies that wander aimlessly until they finally succumb to the fungus. If Cordyceps were to gain this kind of control over human beings, the results could be catastrophic.

At first, the symptoms of Cordyceps infection might be mild, with flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever, and fatigue. But as the fungus begins to take hold, its tendrils would penetrate deep into the host's body, slowly taking control of the nervous system and hijacking the body's functions for its own nefarious purposes. Reproduction and infection.

Infected humans might begin to exhibit strange behavior, wandering aimlessly and showing no regard for their own safety or the safety of others. As the fungus continued to spread, it could cause respiratory failure, brain damage, and eventually, death.

The Last Of Us: Human taken over by the Cordyceps Fungus

But how likely is this? My research tells me that the prospect of a fungal infection that mirrors the events of The Last of Us is highly improbable. While fungal infections are a recognised health issue, they are not known to cause zombie-like behavior in humans. Moreover, even the most dangerous fungal infections can be treated with antifungal medications.

Anticlimactically, the concept of a mutated strain of Cordyceps causing a global pandemic is also remote. While some species of Cordyceps can infect insects and small animals, they are not known to infect humans. Furthermore, the evolution of a new strain of Cordyceps capable of infecting humans is highly unlikely, given that fungi generally evolve over extensive periods of time, often spanning thousands or even millions of years.

The rapid spread of the fungal infection in The Last of Us is also improbable, given the absence of effective treatment and the high degree of contagiousness among infected individuals. In reality, the spread of infectious diseases is typically contained through quarantine measures, isolation of infected individuals, and widespread use of vaccines and other preventive measures.

While the events of The Last of Us may not be scientifically plausible, the game - and now TV series - serves as a thought-provoking allegory of the fragility of our world and the resilience of the human spirit a reminder of the importance of preparedness. Whether it be a natural disaster, a pandemic, or some other threat, the events depicted in The Last of Us remind us of the importance of being ready for the unexpected. It forces us to contemplate the realities of a post-apocalyptic world and to consider what measures we would take to protect ourselves and our loved ones in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

Whether or not the events of The Last of Us could happen in real life is of secondary importance to the powerful impact that it has had on millions of players around the world. Take a moment and think about it, would you be able to survive a post apocalyptic environment?

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Feb 15, 2023

as a mycologist I am very impressed at your research on this! I would have to agree with you, the potential of Cordyceps ever causing the zombie effect in humans is slim to none. A fun read and well put together.


Feb 15, 2023

this post is a testament to the writer, the amount of effort you put in to researching topics and putting them in an interesting way for us to read is amazing

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