How likely is a superfungus apocalypse? The science behind The Last of Us explained
Like all good thrillers, The Last of Us contains other grains of truth. Fungi can, as it suggests, be spread via industrial food stores, for example. In August 1951, one in 20 of the 4,000 inhabitants of Pont-Saint-Esprit, a village in southern France, were stuck down with hallucinations, vomiting and a terrible burning sensation on their limbs. They were suffering from St Anthony’s Fire, an illness that was common in the Middle Ages and is caused by the Ergot fungus. In this case, the fungus contaminated the rye flour used in making the villagers’ bread.
“Ergot contains a chemical that makes the sufferers go berserk and causes gangrene of the hands and feet due to constriction of blood supply to the extremities”, notes a description of the incident on Medicine.net. “If it is not treated (and this was not possible in the Middle Ages) victims had the sensation of being burned at the stake, before their fingers, toes, hands and feet dropped off”.
There is also evidence that the incidence and geographic range of fungal diseases are expanding. For example, the Candida fungus, which causes common infections such as oral and vaginal thrush, has become increasingly resistant to treatment and more widespread. Only this month, a drug-resistant mutation of the bug was found in Mississippi for the first time. The highly contagious infection can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems and has spread widely across America over the last decade.