Last Of Us Zombie Fungus Is Real And Growing Threat To Humanity

The Last of Us dystopian future, caused by a fungus, isn't likely to ever happen but it also can't be guaranteed that it won't.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

HBO’s hit series The Last Of Us depicts the remnants of humanity after a fungus has wiped out the majority of the population. While it’s a fictional series, and the odds of a fungal infection transforming humans into Clickers is low, it’s also not zero. As reported in Forbes, humanity is not prepared for when the biological switch is flipped and what was harmless turns deadly.

Part of the problem behind the growing threat posed by fungal infections is the tame nature of the majority of cases. The most common ailments caused by fungus, including ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot are cured by over-the-counter medications. The Last Of Us shows a world with fungus that is far more virulent and invasive but scientists are already seeing signs that our realities fungi are evolving.

The human body’s core temperature, 98.6 degrees, is too warm for most fungi to take hold. What might create a The Last of Us fungus pandemic is if a deadly species starts acclimating to warmer temperatures. This, scientists note, has already started with Valley fever becoming more common across the United States instead of being restricted to just the deserts of the American Southwest.

Fortunately, healthy individuals naturally stave off the worst of the infections. Immune-compromised people are the most likely to suffer from what Dr. Neil Gow, professor of microbiology at the University of Exeter calls “the disease of the diseased.” Because of this, those people most likely to become Last of Us fungus victims, are already some of the sickest people in the country.

last of us
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s characters in the HBO series are trying to find a cure for the rampant disease. Sadly similar to The Last of Us, any cure we have today would be woefully inefficient in the face of a widespread fungus outbreak. With no vaccines and only a few antifungal drugs available, a teenage girl with natural immunity as the source of a global cure is, well, a likely solution at the moment.

The particular strain in The Last of Us is a mutated cordyceps fungus. This strain overtakes the host and replaces biological tissue before sprouting and spreading via thin, infectious fragments. In reality the fungus is commonly found infecting insects, including wasps and other arthropods, with no known threat to humanity at the moment.

In what could happen as an emulation of The Last of Us bleak, dystopian future caused by a fungus is instead humanity’s food supply. Fungicides are actively used in modern agriculture to protect crops due to their susceptibility to fungi-based diseases. Prior outbreaks led to a complete collapse of the banana trade with smaller outbreaks having wrecked havoc in American wheat fields.

While the prospect of The Last of Us becoming real is very slim, the fungus does pose a growing threat to humanity. As with most potential dangers from nature, there is little that can be done to prepare other than to protect our food supply. It’s more likely we’d all go hungry instead of becoming Clickers.