The world you know no longer exists. Your family, friends, and neighbors are gone. Outside, horrific zombie-like creatures roam the streets. And if you breathe in their spores, you’re one of them. And if that wasn’t bad enough, human factions have formed that want you dead… or worse.
Luckily it’s just a fictional universe of the popular game and now TV show The Last of us, and this could never happen. Right? Right…? Could a scenario like this happen one day? What if you became infected? And how would you survive in this new world?
Cordyceps are fungi that can take control of insects and turn them into zombies. It happens when a spore lands on the insect and takes root in its muscles. The spores then control the insect and move it to a new location where it can reproduce. The insect dies, more get infected, and the cycle continues. And in The Last of Us, these Cordyceps can infect humans.
Producing mushroom-headed monstrosities known as clickers. Oh, and you also have supplies like food and water running at an all-time low, not to mention a complete societal collapse. So, how are you going to get through this? If we lived in a world where air born spores could infect us, cities would become the most dangerous places you can be.
Have a gas mask handy because subway tunnels, underground pathways, and sewer systems would quickly become a breeding ground for the infected. Those in rural areas or small towns would have the best chance, as they’d be further from ground zero and able to respond to protect themselves. And this assumes the way to get infected is through spores, but even if it is tendrils like we see in the show, the same rules would apply.
If you’re in a colder region like the arctic, you would be in luck. The spores wouldn’t be able to reproduce or survive due to the cold weather. Here is where you would have the best chance of re-establishing a civilization. However, your only enemy in this world wouldn’t just be the fungus. In the lawless world of the Last of Us, other human beings cannot be trusted blindly.
Scavengers and raiders could be waiting to take advantage of you to steal your resources. And your golf clubs. Survivors would be forced to establish some form of communications network to find each other, as our best chance of fighting off a horde of infected, as well as gathering food and resources, is to form groups.
Small, fortified villages may be erected over time, resembling some form of civilization, but it would never be as it was. And this is assuming you made it this far without getting infected. But what if you did happen to breathe in those spores? Hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to be immune like Ellie in this scenario.
It’s likely that as the fungus attacks your body, you’d begin to feel some symptoms you’ve probably felt before. A fever, abdominal pain, weakness, and vomiting are all possible consequences. You might also notice yourself getting depressed, as the Cordyceps could affect your dopamine levels.
As time goes on, the fungus would start to take over your nervous system. But it wouldn’t happen in a matter of hours. Since you’re a lot bigger than an insect, it would take months for the Cordyceps to fully take over. As this is happening, the fungus would grow throughout your arms and legs. When it spreads far enough in your body, it can gain control over you.
Slowly moving your limbs according to it’s own will. You could do your best to fight it off, but once it’s inside of you, there’s really nothing you can do. Your brain would still be running, but you wouldn’t have control over what you do with it. After all, the Cordyceps’ primary purpose is to spread as much as it can.
And to do that, it would trap you inside an enclosed area so it can grow, spread through, and release more of its spores, hoping to infect others. After a couple of weeks, you would die in that spot. Like the Last of Us’ Shambler. Ugh. I hate that thing. And now that you’re dead, the Cordyceps fungus can continue to spread, turning you into what’s known as a fruiting body.
This is when spores and fungi would start to come out of you. They’d come out from everywhere that doesn’t have any hard bone blocking its way. And the longer you stay this way, the more you’ll become a spore-generating monstrosity. But how possible is this really?
The Last of Us poses a theory that if fungi evolved to withstand higher temperatures, then it could infect humans. And in the show, that very thing happens. But how likely is this? Right now, the Cordyceps fungi need a temperature between 20 and 30 °C (68-86 °F) in order to survive. Luckily for you, the human body’s temperature is closer to 37 °C (98 °F), meaning the Cordyceps wouldn’t be able to withstand your body heat.
Phew. But what if the Cordyceps were able to survive in higher temperatures? You’d still be fine. This is due to our bodies being much more complex than a simple ant and our immune systems being much stronger. So looks like you are immune like Ellie after all. You can rest easy knowing you won’t turn into a zombie from these things. But what if, instead of you turning into one, there was a full-on zombie apocalypse?