Have you stayed up late so you don’t miss the premiere of The Last of Us? The new HBO production, brought to us by the parents of the Chernobyl series and Neil Druckmann (creator of the video game that gives the series its name), has already been released and viewers can see the first episode of a series that maintained 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for practically an entire day.
An adaptation made both for fans of the video game of the same name and for viewers who have never played it, and which promises to make us explore all kinds of feelings, and some of them not very pleasant. Those who start watching the series may wonder if the cause of the infection that has decimated the population has some kind of real basis, but does the Cordyceps fungus exist and does it pose any danger?
A 100% real mushroom
The infection that affects humans in The Last of Us is a mutated strain of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a type of parasitic fungus that exists in our world. Using spores, this mutated fungus attacks the brain of its human victims to alter their behavior, eventually subduing them completely.
Cordyceps in the real world has similar behavior, although fortunately for our civilization it is much more limited. The fungus usually adheres to its hosts, which are usually ants or snails, gradually replacing their tissues and affecting their neurological system. After this, the ultimate goal of the infected bug is to reach high places, where it can meet other bugs to infect and reproduce.
Although it is terrifying (and it is for those poor critters), human beings are immune for one simple reason: we are warm-blooded creatures. Cordyceps cannot survive in high body temperatures, so they tend to prefer insects. So don’t worry, you’re safe
Although the fungus currently cannot affect humans due to its temperature, this limitation could be overcome by something we are very aware of: climate change. With the general increase in temperatures, many mutations of heat-resistant species are becoming better adapted to the environment, thus perpetuating their lineage.
As in the video game, and now in the series, the day could come when a new cordyceps mutation begins to affect humans. But, for now, rest assured, it is most likely something very unlikely and that, if it did happen, its effects on human beings would be more limited due to something as simple as our size.