Millions of people tune in every week to see the highly anticipated TV adaptation of The last of us. The show depicts a post-apocalyptic world where society has collapsed due to an outbreak of a dangerous brain-controlling fungal infection that turns people into hostile, cannibalistic “zombies.”
The mushroom that caused the pandemic is based on real life Cordyceps Zombie fungus infecting insects. insects infected with Cordyceps have little control over their actions as the fungus takes over their nervous system before eventually growing outside of their body.
Luckily for us, a fast-spreading fungal pandemic is fairly unlikely, but that doesn’t mean fungus isn’t a problem anymore.
This image shows a caterpillar infected with Cordyceps. Prot Tachapanit/EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
The mushroom kingdom is vast – with around 3 million different species in the world.
Most fungi like cooler temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius, which means that they generally cannot grow at the internal human body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. This is one of the reasons most human yeast infections tend to stay on the skin where it’s cooler (think athlete’s foot and ringworm). This is also the reason why, relative to the size of the fungal kingdom, only a small number of fungi can cause infection in humans.
But some species of fungi grow in warmer temperatures – and they are the ones that cause life-threatening infections. Some mushrooms, like candidiasis Yeast, as part of the microbiome, can even live in our gut and enter the blood and organs when we get serious diseases (like cancer).
And just like one of the characters in The last of us suggests that climate change could pose new problems. Warming global temperatures mean fungi have to adapt. This may increase the number of species that can cause serious infections in humans. There is evidence that this may already be happening.
For example the mushroom candida auris is extremely concerning because it is resistant to almost all antifungal drugs. It can spread quickly in hospitals and nursing homes, causing serious infections in people with weakened immune systems.
These infections are a bit like sepsis, where the fungus gets into the blood and organs, preventing them from working properly. But what really candida auris Remarkable is its ability to grow at higher temperatures – it can withstand up to 42 degrees Celsius.
The emergence of candida auris on three continents almost simultaneously, researchers have speculated that global warming may have contributed to its increase. It remains to be seen whether further increases in global temperature will lead to more dangerous fungal superbugs.
Cryptococcal brain lesions caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans.KATERYNA KON/SCIENTIFIC PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images
But even if a fungus is able to adapt to warmer temperatures and thrive, it’s unlikely to spread through a population the way a virus would.
Most fungal infections are not like other infectious diseases in that an infected person usually cannot pass them on to someone else. This is because most yeast infections tend to only infect people with certain risk factors, such as people with weakened immune systems.
Fungal infections also tend not to spread between people due to the way the infections start. Many serious fungal infections begin in the lungs after inhaling airborne fungal spores. Although we breathe in hundreds of fungal spores every day, we almost never get sick because our immune system is very good at destroying the spores.
When the immune system fails and the spores germinate in the lungs, they can form different types of fungal cells that cause infection. But there’s little evidence that fungi also produce airborne spores once they’re in our lungs, meaning we can inhale fungal spores but not exhale them.
Serious fungal infections can spread from the lungs to other organs, including the brain. Fungal infections of the brain are among the deadliest fungal infections. Most of them are caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus neoformanswhich causes cryptococcal meningitis.
About 100,000 people die from this disease every year. No other fungal infection causes more human deaths.
Cryptococcal meningitis occurs when a person with a weakened immune system inhales fungal spores. The fungus escapes from the lungs and invades the brain – although exactly how this happens is not understood. Once in the brain, infected patients experience symptoms such as severe headaches, fever, blurred vision and seizures.
Although the infection can be treated with antifungal medications, these are expensive, meaning those who need them cannot afford them. THE cryptococci Fungi can also become resistant to these antifungal drugs.
But if there are definitely fungal infections that can spread to the brain, we probably don’t have to worry about the zombie. Cordyceps Fungi adapt to infect us as in The last of us – Well, at least not in the foreseeable future.
Cordyceps is not able to grow at our body’s internal temperature, nor to fight with our immune system (which is much more advanced than that of an insect) to simultaneously infect our brain and our nervous system. It would take several thousand years of evolution to overcome this.
Although fungal infections are unlikely to trigger a global pandemic or zombie apocalypse, there is still cause for concern. The number of people suffering from serious fungal infections has steadily increased over the past half century. This is concerning because compared to other types of infections, we are much less able to treat fungal infections because we have less antifungal drugs.
Developing these drugs is also challenging because fungi have similar biochemistry to our own bodies. The rise of drug-resistant fungi also threatens us. It is clear that more attention needs to be paid to the potential dangers of mushrooms before it is too late.
This article was originally published on The conversation Since Rebecca A Drummond In the University of Birmingham. Read the original article here.
#reveals #deadly #truth #yeast #infections
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