The Last of Us is an action-adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world where a fungus has infected most of the population, turning them into zombie-like creatures known as infected. While the infected in the game are fictional, they are inspired by a real-life fungus that has evolved to manipulate the behavior of its host: the Cordyceps fungus.
What is the Cordyceps fungus?
The Cordyceps fungus is a type of parasitic fungi that infects insects and other arthropods. There are more than 400 species of Cordyceps, and each species is specific to a particular host. Once the fungus infects its host, it invades its body, slowly consuming it from the inside out. As the fungus grows, it releases chemicals that alter the behavior of its host, often causing it to seek out higher ground or an area with higher humidity. This behavior modification is thought to help the fungus spread its spores to a wider area, as the spores are released from the host at a higher altitude, and can be carried further by the wind.
The Last of Us and the Zombie Fungus
In The Last of Us, the Cordyceps fungus has evolved to infect humans, turning them into aggressive and highly infectious zombies known as infected. While the fungus in the game is fictional, it is based on the real-life behavior of the Cordyceps fungus. The game’s developers consulted with real-world mycologists to create a believable and terrifying fungal infection.
In the game, the fungus enters the human body through spores in the air. Once inside, the fungus invades the brain and takes control of the host’s motor functions, causing them to behave aggressively and attack other uninfected humans. The fungus also alters the host’s physical appearance, causing them to develop fungal growths and a distinctive fungal odor.
While the infected in the game are fictional, they are based on the real-world effects of the Cordyceps fungus on insects. Insects infected with the Cordyceps fungus have been observed to behave erratically and aggressively, often attacking other insects or their own kind. Some species of Cordyceps fungus have also been known to alter the behavior of their hosts in other ways, such as causing them to attach themselves to the underside of leaves, where the fungus can more easily spread its spores.
The Last of Us and the Real-World Threat of Fungal Infections
While the fungal infection in The Last of Us is a work of fiction, it is not entirely far-fetched. Fungal infections can be serious and sometimes fatal, particularly for people with weakened immune systems. Fungal infections are also becoming more common, as more people are being treated with antibiotics and other medications that weaken the immune system.
In recent years, there have been several cases of fungal infections that have caused concern among health experts. In 2012, an outbreak of fungal meningitis in the United States caused 751 infections and 64 deaths. The outbreak was caused by contaminated steroid injections that were given to people with back pain. The fungus responsible for the outbreak, Exserohilum rostratum, is a common soil fungus that rarely infects humans.
Another fungal infection that has gained attention in recent years is Candida auris, a multidrug-resistant fungus that can cause serious infections, particularly in hospital settings. The fungus has been found in more than 30 countries, and there have been several outbreaks in the United States and Europe. Candida auris is particularly dangerous because it is resistant to most antifungal drugs, making it difficult to treat.