In The Last of Us, a fungal infection that grows with rising temperatures leads the majority of the human race to lose control over their bodies and perish.
The show opens in 1968. Epidemiologists Dr. Schoenheiss and Dr. Neuman join a late-night talk show where they discuss the possibility of a viral pandemic that keeps them up all night.
Dr. Neuman says no such pandemic keeps him up, but he does agree that microorganisms do pose a threat to humanity. The organism that worries him the most is a fungus. He tells the host and the viewers about a fungus that seeks not to kill but to control.
How the fungal infection in The Last of Us works?
Dr. Neuman talks about a fungus that affects insects like ants. It gets inside the body, travels through its circulatory system to the ant’s brain, and then floods it with hallucinogens.
This way, the fungus bends the ant to its will. It starts to direct the ant’s behavior, telling it where to go and what to do. The fungus also requires food to survive. That’s when it begins to devour its host from within, replacing the host’s flesh with its own.
At the end of the day, the fungus doesn’t let the host die. It plans to keep using the host as its puppet, and in order to do that, it prevents the decomposition of the host’s body.
Dr. Schoenheiss argues that a fungus like this is real but it cannot affect humans. Dr. Neuman admits it can’t. If the host’s body temperature is over 94 degrees, the fungus won’t survive.
The fungus has no reason to evolve to withstand higher temperatures. At the same time, Dr. Neuman questions what if temperatures around the world started rising slightly.
Then the fungus may have reason to evolve and burrow into human brains in the near future.
This way, it will not just control millions, but billions, of people around the world with only one goal: spreading the infection to every other human being alive.
Dr. Neuman claims there are no treatments, preventative measures, or cures for this if it occurs. They don’t exist, and it’s not even possible to make cures. He concludes by saying that if this happens, the human race will lose.
Years later, in 2003, Dr. Neuman’s prediction comes true as a fungal infection starts spreading around the world, taking over the minds of millions of people.
Does a fungal infection like this exist?
The fungal infection in The Last of Us called the Cordyceps infection takes cues from a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is found in insects like ants. Unlike the fungus in the show, this fungus doesn’t target the brain; it rather preserves it.
What it does is manipulate the rest of the body. The muscles of the body are forced to go against what their brains tell them to do.
The infection then spreads when Ophiocordyceps unilateralis exhumes spores from the body.
In the original video game The Last of Us, these spores spread in the air, forcing people to wear gas masks. So far in the show, bites are suggested to be the only way the infection spreads.