Like all good thrillers, The Last of Us contains other grains of truth. Fungi can, as he suggests, be spread via industrial food stores, for example. In August 1951, one out of 20 of the 4,000 inhabitants of Pont-Saint-Esprit, a village in the south of France, suffered from hallucinations, vomiting and a terrible burning sensation in the limbs. They suffered from St. Anthony’s fire, a disease common in the Middle Ages and 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 drives patients mad 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 left untreated (and this was not possible in the Middle Ages) the victims felt like they were being burned at the stake, before their fingers, toes, hands and feet fell off.”
There is also evidence that the incidence and geographic extent 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 prevalent. Just this month, a drug-resistant mutation of the bug was discovered in Mississippi for the first time. The highly contagious infection can cause serious illness in people with weakened immune systems and has spread widely across America over the past decade.
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