In the incredible game The Last of Us 60% of the world’s population, 4.25 billion humans, more than the entirety of Asia, have quickly ceased to exist or are just no longer people. Is this is possible in real life?
Scenarios like this aren’t anything new, there have been hundreds and hundreds of movies and video games that cover identical events, but may a pandemic like what is depicted in The Last of Us really happen?
You only have to go back a couple of years to 1918, at the end of World War 1, to see one of the most deadly and catastrophic pandemics in human history: The Spanish Flu.
This kind of avian influenza killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people, over three times the amount who died in the war, and with a global population at the time of 1.85 billion, it annihilated 3-5% of the entire earth; and that was in one year.
But the flu is a virus that really exists, and in the work of fiction The Last of Us we are considering an organism, a fungus … that also …actually exists.
Cordyceps are fungal parasites that affect and take over insects. The most popular being ophiocordyceps unilateralis that infects ants, turning them into zombies. A spore from the fungus invades the ant’s body, taking over its brain and controlling its movements. Not too late after, the ant finds an ideal spot to die, the fruiting body of the fungus matures out of the ant’s head, and a slew of spores are released above the unsuspecting ant population. It has been known to obliterate entire colonies, but luckily it only affects insects, and it’s not like diseases can get from one species to another ….
An estimated 60% of all current diseases originated from animals, especially ones that we share a close connection with or have domesticated.
From cattle arose measles, tuberculosis, and smallpox. From pigs and birds, we picked up the flu. From chimpanzees we got AIDS. All of these began as infections that couldn’t be transmitted to humans, but after some time those microbes around us adapted to our biology.
But we don’t share such a close connection with ants, and most people don’t eat ants ( unless you are going all Bear Grylls on the world), so that’s good…. we guess … but the thing is that some animals do, and then other animals eat those animals, and at some point in the chain lie humans.
Considering how diseases mutated and advanced from domesticated animals to us, it isn’t too bizarre to think that a fungal infection like that, whose only purpose is to survive long enough to spread, could change and evolve to lay claim to the top of that food chain.
A great illustration of a microbe’s ingenuity is in Jared Diamond’s amazing book ‘Guns, Germs, and steel’. Jared speaks about the bacterial disease typhus and how it transmitted to people by going from rat fleas to rats to humans. But after a bit typhus figured out a much effortless way to infect us: By cutting out the worthless carriers and going straight from human body lice to humans.
If a fungal parasite like the Cordycep is capable to infect humans as it does in The Last of Us, how long would it take?
One of the considerable differences between the Spanish Flu in 1918 and the present-day pandemic is how connected we are. What may have taken two weeks to from New York to Germany by boat, can be completed in about 8 hours on a plane. Using the Global Epidemic and Mobility software and a few parameters we see from the game, we can make a model and simulate what the transmission and spread would look like.
In around 60 days, the fungal parasite would have infected most of the planet. And you have an idea of how bad are things, when not even Madagascar is safe.
But that isn’t to say that the governments of the world don’t have any strategy in place.
Most governments – and the United States in particular – have plans for biological threats, counter-terrorism, and one that affects this situation most, The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. In it their high estimate for casualties domestically is 2 million, or below 1% the population of the US. This incredibly detailed 233-page document literally drives home one main point, and that is “sustain infrastructure and mitigate impact to the economy and the functioning of humanity”.
A parasite, disease or virus doesn’t affect power lines, cars, the internet, or the power stations … it affects the humans who make those things work. When 60% of the global population, over 4 billion humans, just stop being – when the doctors, the teachers, the mechanics, and what we know as society collapse… all that’s left is simply…. the last of us.
Happy New Year guys! We wish you a New Year filled with Peace, Prosperity and Good Fortune! See you in the next one!
Under Science TEAM
The above post was made from the following materials: