Superfungus like brain-controlling bug in The Last Of Us could pose next global threat

WE all love to sit down and enjoy our favorite TV show of a night.

And for many of us, that was in the form of The Last of Us, a show depicting a post-apocalyptic world where society has collapsed due to a fungal infection.

The fungus in Last of Us is based on the real Cordyceps zombie fungus that infects insects


The fungus in Last of Us is based on the real Cordyceps zombie fungus that infects insectsPhoto credit: Getty
The Last of Us may be fiction, but experts have said infections like those on the show could pose a real problem


The Last of Us may be fiction, but experts have said infections like those on the show could pose a real problemPhoto credit: HBO

The infection is a brain-controlling disease that turns humans into hostile, cannibalistic zombies.

But it’s not just the work of fiction, and now one expert has said there’s cause for concern.

Rebecca Drummond, a professor of immunology and immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham, wrote in The Conversation that the fungus is actually based on the real Cordyceps zombie fungus that infects insects.

Infected insects have little control over their actions as the fungus takes over their nervous system.

This eventually grows out of their bodies.

Prof Drummond said a fast-spreading fungal pandemic was “fairly unlikely” – but that doesn’t mean fungi aren’t still a problem.

That’s because, according to estimates, there are around three million different types of mushrooms.

The expert said developing drugs to treat these infections is “difficult”.

“Fungi have similar biochemistry to our own bodies. The rise of drug-resistant fungi also threatens us.

“It’s clear that more attention needs to be paid to the potential dangers of fungi before it’s too late.”

She added that because there are fewer antifungal drugs, medical professionals are less able to treat fungal infections compared to other types of infections.

“While fungal infections are unlikely to trigger a global pandemic or zombie apocalypse, there is still cause for concern.

“The number of people who develop a serious fungal infection has increased steadily over the past half century,” she said.

Prof Drummond said the beetle in The Last of Us, Cordyceps, is not designed to grow at our internal body temperature.

“It’s also unable to fight with our immune system (which is much more advanced than that of an insect) to infect our brain and nervous system at the same time. It would take many thousands of years of evolution to overcome this,” she said.


But Prof Drummond highlighted other fungal problems that could pose the next global threat.

Severe fungal infections can spread from the lungs to other organs — including the brain, she said.

Fungal infections of the brain are among the deadliest and are caused by Cryptococcus neoforman, which can cause cryptococcal meningitis.

The data shows that about 100,000 people die from the disease each year, with no other fungal infection causing more human deaths.

The expert explained that the infection happens when a person with a weakened immune system – usually caused by AIDS – inhales the fungal spores.

“The fungus escapes from the lungs and enters the brain – although it’s not exactly clear how this happens. Once in the brain, infected patients experience symptoms such as severe headaches, fever, blurred vision and seizures,” said Prof Drummond.

She added that the drugs are expensive and even if you can get them, they can also become resistant.


Prof Drummond also warned of growing cases of Candida yeast.

She said the fungus Candida auris is “extremely concerning” because it is resistant to almost all antifungal drugs.

“It can spread quickly in hospitals and nursing homes and cause serious infections in people with weakened immune systems.

“These infections are a bit like sepsis, where the fungus gets into the blood and organs, preventing them from functioning properly.”

But what really sets Candida auris apart is its ability to grow in higher temperatures — able to withstand up to 42C, she said.

One of the characters in The Last of Us suggests that climate change is likely to bring new problems for fungal infections.

And Prof Drummond said rising temperatures could mean fungi need to adapt, which in turn increases the number of species that can cause serious infections in humans.

She added that this could also happen with the Candida auris emergency on three continents almost simultaneously, with researchers theorizing that warming global climate may have contributed to its rise.

“Whether further global temperature increases will lead to more dangerous fungal superbugs remains to be seen,” she added.

Experts also found a zombie virus trapped under a frozen lake for 50,000 years last year.

If the permafrost melts at higher temperatures, even deadlier viruses could be released, disease experts have warned.

A team of medical experts from the University of Aix-Marseille discovered the ancient “Pandoravirus” in the melting permafrost of Siberia, Russia.

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The disease, trapped under a lake bed in Yakutia for 48,500 years, is believed to be the oldest “living” virus yet recovered.

It infects unicellular organisms and is not thought to pose a threat to humans, experts said. Superfungus like brain-controlling bug in The Last Of Us could pose next global threat

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