As fans of HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation of the popular Naughty Dog video game know all too well, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world brought about by a devastating fungal pandemic that turns people into zombie-like infectees with only one goal in mind – spread the infection.
The original game storyline used a real-life parasitic fungus that takes over the minds of ants and controls them like puppets and imagined what would happen if the Cordyceps evolved to be able to do the same to human beings.
That being said, HBO’s TV show adaptation added a very chilling scene as the opener, where it was suggested that climate change could ultimately lead to fungi adapting to warmer conditions and therefore surviving inside the human body as well.
Knowing what we know about global warming, this scene caused many to wonder if this is actually possible or not in real life.
Fortunately, experts say that it’s unlikely any species of Cordyceps can pose that kind of danger to humans – for the time being.
After all, it’s taken these parasites millions of years to evolve their puppeteering to where it is today and it’s so particular that most of them cannot even jump from one species of insect to another, let alone from insects to humans.
However, that is not to say that there is nothing to learn from The Last of Us when it comes to the generally overlooked danger fungi possess.
In reality, some scientists do believe that climate change is making fungi much more dangerous to us but not all of them agree on how exactly the impact is taking place.
Infectious disease doctor George Thompson, who studies fungal infections, shared via Gizmodo that “The other part of this, which hasn’t gotten as much attention, is that a couple of studies have shown that the human body temperature over the last 100 years has been cooling. So not only is our environment getting warmer, but we are also getting colder. And that is just going to further narrow that temperature difference and put us at risk for a fungal diseases.”
In the last couple of years, a microbiologist team has been arguing that this scenario has pretty much already taken place with Candida auris.
This scary fungus is more often than not resistant to all drugs and has been infecting humans since at least 2009.
And it appears that the HBO series got it right as other researchers have found proof that the strains found in humans have evolved to like warmth more only recently.
One newer study even proved that as the climate warms, fungi will continue to be a bigger threat to people.
Lead author Asiya Gusa, told Gizmodo that fungi “may evolve more rapidly with the warming temperatures than we had anticipated, especially if heat stress acts as a trigger for mutation and adaptation.”
For the time being, fungal infections mainly affect those with really weak immune systems.
However, Gusa and other researchers claim that the number of infections among healthy people have been on the rise as well.
Thompson has also pointed out that doctors who are not very familiar with fungi, may be missing cases of fungal infections such as the dangerous and currently spreading Valley fever.
Just like bacteria, several fungi such as Cryptococcus and C. auris, are evolving to be resistant to all our drugs and medications, meaning that an outbreak is getting harder and harder to avoid.
At the same time, even if a full-blown fungal pandemic never actually happens, the danger that fungi pose to our public health should still not be underestimated.
In conclusion, it’s unlikely that fungi will bring about the zombie apocalypse anytime soon but what The Last of Us got right is that they’re still very much a huge threat.