Deep in the jungle, there’s a fungus that infects creatures, and turns them into zombies. This deadly fungus, known as Cordyceps, has the ability to take out entire species.
What if this fungus infected you, by touching your skin, or just by breathing it in? Could the Cordyceps fungus turn you into a zombie? What would it do to your body? And how likely is it that this will happen to you?
Cordyceps work when its spores land on an insect’s body and take root in its muscles. The spores then control the insect, making it move to a location that’s perfect for the fungi to reproduce.
The fungus forces the insect to chomp down on a leaf. And it will then stay there until it dies. The parasite will feed off the creature and grow for weeks, so it can release more spores and infect more insects. Now, how would this work if it happened to you?
If this fungal parasite could jump from insects to humans, it would most likely be an airborne infection. Places like cities, public transportation, and tunnels would all be danger zones where you could potentially catch the Cordyceps fungus.
It’s likely that the fungus would attack your body as any other parasite might. When you first become infected, you’ll 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.
Some of these effects might be familiar, but what isn’t is how the fungus would spread through your body. As time goes on, the fungus would start to take over your nervous system. Since you’re a lot bigger than something like an insect, it would take months for the Cordyceps to take over you fully.
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.
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, and spread through your body even further. After a couple of weeks, you would die in that spot. 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 now that this has happened, the fungus and spores can spread even further, infecting more and more people. Luckily, we don’t need to worry about this sort of thing happening to us. Cordyceps can’t infect humans, as our bodies are better than insects at attacking pathogens.
So 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?
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- “Real-Life Zombies That Are Stranger Than Fiction”. Baraniuk, Chris. 2020. bbc.com.
- “‘Planet Earth’ Got Zombie Cordyceps Fungus Wrong, Study Suggests”. 2017. Inverse.
- “Why The Last Of Us Fungus Is Improbable”. 2020. Destructoid.