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Separating Fungi Facts From Fiction in ‘The Last of Us’

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In this video, Katelyn Jetelina, PhD, director of population health analytics at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, talks about the zombie fungal infection in the TV drama “The Last of Us.” Jetelina, who also is the author of the “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter on Substack, separates fact from fiction in the series and the video game on which it’s based.

The following is a transcript of her remarks:

The hit TV show “The Last of Us” is on all of our minds. Here are some facts versus fiction among the story line.

The TV series centers around one type of fungus, which is called Cordyceps. This is not made up. This is a real fungus in our world. But it is only a threat to one specific type of ant, called carpenter ants. So no, we humans do not need to worry about coming in contact with this fungus and turning into zombies.

There are other fungi that have the potential to wreak havoc in humans, including [causing] death. In fact, a lot of scientists have deemed fungal infections “the silent crisis” because we don’t really pay enough attention to them.

I think the latest statistic I saw was that fungal infections lead to about 1.5-1.7 million deaths per year, which is actually more than malaria. In the United States in particular, there’s usually about 75,000 hospitalizations every year due to fungal infections. The most serious of these hospitalized cases is when the fungus infiltrates the bloodstream or critical organs like the lungs or the liver.

Fungus do live on food supplies, for example, in wheat, which [“The Last of Us”] story is really centered around. Us humans can get infected by eating those wheat products. But again, with this type of fungus, we are not going to turn into zombies if we eat the wheat that it’s on.

Selfishly, I think it’s really important that we recognize that fiction like “The Last of Us” is a great avenue for scientific translation and scientific knowledge. I think that this is a great way for people to understand fungal infections, as long as we can hamper down the fears and enjoy it as fiction. But there are a lot of threads and stories and scientific evidence being brought through this show, and the video game, which I think can be leveraged as an education lesson. That’s why I’ve really had a lot of fun following this show and trying to help people understand how to separate the facts from fiction.

Emily Hutto is an Associate Video Producer & Editor for MedPage Today. She is based in Manhattan.

Source : MedPageToday

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