The Truth Behind The Viral Outbreak in “The Last Of Us”

Christina Brown


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The Cordyceps virus from the hit game and TV series “The Last Of Us” is a fungal virus that affects the human brain. The Cordyceps fungus causes brain infection which over time corrodes the body and turns people into mindless zombies which are referred to as clickers. In the show, Ellie and Joel must navigate their way through different cities and fight off clickers in order to stay alive. The bite from one clicker can transfer the infection from person to person. As viewers watched “The Last Of Us,” many began to fear the possibility of an actual apocalyptic zombie outbreak. 

So, can an apocalyptic outbreak actually occur from the Cordyceps fungus?

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Ultimately, the answer is no. The Cordyceps fungus, also known as “zombie-ant fungus” is a real fungus that primarily affects insects such as ants. The fungus infects the ants’ brains and causes them to climb up to a high plant where it will then use its jaws to cling onto the plant in a death grip. The fungus spores then “consumes the ant gradually, sprouting through its head in a final indignity.” Luckily, the Cordyceps fungus proves no real harm to human kind. In many cases this type of fungus is actually used in different cultures as a type of medicine. 

While the Cordyceps fungus cannot cause an infectious outbreak in humans, some  researchers still believe that there is a chance for a different type of pandemic. According to Norman Van Rhijn, a mycologist researching fungal infections at the University of Manchester, “A fungal pandemic is definitely

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possible.” While no fungi species  currently has proven to be an actual pandemic threat from human kind, fungal infections are on the rise worldwide. Each year billions of people contract some sort of skin, nail or hair infection that’s caused by fungus. While there could never be a zombie outbreak due to fungal infections, the idea of a worldwide fungi pandemic is not unlikely. 

While the zombies in “The Last Of Us” are completely fictional, there are some fungi species that can actually change human behavior. The fungus ergot has had a reputation for changing the way people behave. Ergot poisoning from rye has actually been considered to be one of the main causes for the Salem witch trials. Many historians claim that “women began behaving strangely and accusing each other of witchcraft after eating infected rye.” In terms of “The Last Of Us” outbreak, people could never be mind controlled by fungi or turned into zombies. Fungi can however change the way people act and feel.