‘The Last Of Us’ zombie apocalypse could really happen to humans, experts warn

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    A “zombie” apocalypse among humans could really happen, scientists have warned.

    They say the storyline of new end-of-the-world mega drama The Last Of Us may become reality.

    In the video game-turned-TV hit, the parasitic super-fungus Cordyceps takes over the minds of humans and turns them into zombies.

    It is based on a David Attenborough documentary which shows Cordyceps taking over the brain of ants, controlling their minds so they wipe out colonies.

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    Dr Mark Ramsdale, a molecular microbiologist, said: “Some could potentially make that transition from one lifestyle to another and become pathogenic in a context that we haven’t thought of before.”

    At the moment Cordyceps isn’t evolved to cope with the human body’s normal internal temperature of 37C.

    But Professor Elaine Bignell, a human fungal pathogen expert, has warned about other harmful fungi.

    She said: “A number of fungal species are quite prominent pathogens and kill hundreds of thousands of people every year – it’s just that the public is not well aware of this.”

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    A World Health Organization report warned that fungal infections "increased significantly" among hospital patients during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    One of the fungi considered to represent the most significant risk was Aspergillus fumigatus , a common mould found in many homes that can cause "chronic and acute lung disease” and can be deadly.

    Another potentially dangerous fungus flagged up by the WHO report is Candida auris .

    The highly drug resistant fungus, which has has caused a number of outbreaks in hospitals worldwide can cause life-threatening infections in people with weakened immunity.

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    Cordyceps was not on the WHO’s threat list – but it’s a very real organism.

    Professor Bignell told Sky News that while Cordyceps hasn’t developed the ability to live at higher temperatures, many other fungi have.

    She said: "One thing that killer fungi do have in common is that they are able to grow at human body temperature, and that's unusual for a fungus.

    “Most fungi in the environment are suited to growing in more temperate conditions, and it places quite a strain on any microorganism to counteract an immune response in a human body and cope with the high temperature."

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    Dr Henrik de Fine Licht, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, told the Daily Mail: "It makes the not too far-fetched idea of a fungal disease “jumping” from one species, insects in this case, and on to humans.

    "Many, if not most new diseases likely comes from pathogenic organisms shifting from other species, so the idea is compelling".

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    The WHO has called for governments around the world to take measures to counter the threat of the 19 fungi on the list.

    "Emerging from the shadows of the bacterial antimicrobial resistance pandemic, fungal infections are growing, and are ever more resistant to treatments, becoming a public health concern worldwide," said the organisation's Dr Hanan Balkhy.

    Even the fungi we eat can show some sinister properties. For example, oyster mushrooms prey on nematode worms by paralysing them before turning them into an easily-digestible slurry.

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