The Last of Us: Man in India infected with deadly plant fungus in world’s first

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A man in India has been infected with a type of plant fungus in a world’s first, prompting internet users to draw parallels to the post-apocalyptic fungi-linked zombie outbreak depicted on HBO hit show The Last of Us.

The 61-year-old man tested positive for Chondrostereum purpureum, according to a report filed in the Medical Mycology Case Reports by doctors who treated him.

CT scan demonstrates the presence of a right paratracheal abscess. (Sabouraud dextrose agar showed growth of creamy pasty colony with buff coloured pigmentation on reverse side after 4–5 days. (Medical Mycology Case Reports))
CT scan demonstrates the presence of a right paratracheal abscess. (Sabouraud dextrose agar showed growth of creamy pasty colony with buff coloured pigmentation on reverse side after 4–5 days. (Medical Mycology Case Reports))

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The previously plant-only killer infection is known to cause silver leaf disease in flora, most commonly in species of rose.

The man, not named in the report, received treatment at the Apollo Multispecialty Hospitals in Kolkata, West Bengal. He reportedly experienced symptoms including a cough, fatigue, difficulty swallowing and a hoarse voice for three months.

He had no history of illness and was an at-risk patient, according to the report.

“This case highlights the potential of environmental plant fungi to cause disease in humans and stresses the importance of molecular techniques to identify the causative fungal species,” the authors of the medical report said.

“Although different evolutionary pathways of plant and animal pathogens exist, evidence of animal or human infection by phytopathogens, has recently emerged. Global warming, alteration of ecosystem, international travel and commerce, and unplanned urbanization may be responsible for emergence of not only newer fungal infection but also various zoonotic viral and bacterial diseases,” the report added.

The identity of the pathogen was revealed through sequencing. Conventional techniques including microscopy and culture reportedly failed to identify the fungus.

Sabouraud dextrose agar showed growth of creamy pasty colony with buff coloured pigmentation on reverse side after 4–5 days. (Medical Mycology Case Reports)
Sabouraud dextrose agar showed growth of creamy pasty colony with buff coloured pigmentation on reverse side after 4–5 days. (Medical Mycology Case Reports)

A CT scan revealed a “paratracheal abscess” in the man’s neck, obstructing his airway and causing the symptoms. After draining the pus, he was prescribed daily antifungal medicine.

Reports said that he recovered from the infection and that it has not resurfaced since the treatment was administered.

“This case report demonstrates the crossover of plant pathogen into humans when working in close contact with plant fungi,” the medics cautioned in the report.

“The cross-kingdom pathogenicity demands much work to be done in order to explore insights of the mechanisms involved, thus leading to possible recommendations to control and contain these infections.”

Lactophenol Cotton Blue mount preparation showed round and tubular fungal elements. (Medical Mycology Case Reports)
Lactophenol Cotton Blue mount preparation showed round and tubular fungal elements. (Medical Mycology Case Reports)

Concerns about fungi infecting humans grew after the US TV show starring Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey and Nick Offerman depicted a fictional post-apocalyptic world where people get infected with a fungus called Cordyceps and transform into zombies.

Additionally, real-life fungus Cordyceps from the TV series, which was adapted from a game with the same name, has not made the leap to people.

There are no immediate reasons for concern, since among the millions of fungi present in the environment, currently just a few hundred fungi can infect humans and animals.

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