The Last of Us is the hottest new show on HBOMax, boasting stars like Pedro Pascal and Nick Offerman and giving zombie fans their post-apocalyptic-media fix. The dangerous fungus that sets the show’s story in motion seems outlandish, but it turns out it’s all too real.
The show, originally based on a hugely popular video game, tells the story of Joel and Ellie, a man and young girl who are traveling across post-apocalyptic America. Twenty years before the events of the show, a mass fungal infection caused by a mutation in the Cordyceps fungus created a global pandemic. People who were infected turned into cannibalistic creatures who attack the uninfected.
How Does The Fungus Zombify Its Host?
Most people assume the fictional fungal infection is completely made up, but unfortunately, the Cordyceps fungus is all too real. The fungus species are endoparasitoids, which means they serve as parasites for insects and other arthropods.
When a Cordyceps fungus attacks its host, it invades and replaces the host’s tissue. The fungal spores start by attaching themselves to the insect’s exoskeleton, then squeezes inside the host. Eventually, it makes its way to the host’s brain, where it secretes a compound that allows the fungus to take over the host’s nervous system—making it, for all intents and purposes, a zombie.
Can It Affect Humans?
The Last of Us’ zombifying fungus is definitely real, but is there any real danger to humans? Could it spread from insects to humans? Fortunately for us, the answer is no. The Cordyceps fungus is too specific to its host. For example, a fungus that affects a species of ant in one part of the world will not affect the same type of ant in a completely different part of the world.
Additionally, the fungus wouldn’t be able to survive in a human body. Humans have a higher body temperature than insects, meaning the Cordyceps fungus wouldn’t be able to last anywhere near long enough to do anything. The human immune system would also flush the fungus out of the body before it had the chance to fully attach itself to the host.
If that wasn’t enough, the Cordyceps fungus also wouldn’t be able to control the human brain and central nervous system. According to Popular Mechanics, it would take millions of years for the fungus to figure out how to properly invade the human brain and control it. The Last of Us’ freaky fungus might be all too real, but it looks like we humans don’t have to worry about Cordyceps turning us into zombies any time soon!