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The Last of Us: fungal infections really can kill – and they’re getting more dangerous

Fungal infections are quickly becoming a global concern.

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Millions have been tuning in every week to watch the highly anticipated TV adaptation of The Last of Us. The show depicts a post-apocalyptic world where society has collapsed due to the outbreak of a dangerous, brain-controlling fungal infection that turns humans into hostile, cannibalistic “zombies”.

The fungus which causes the pandemic is based on the real-life Cordyceps zombie fungus that infects insects. Insects infected with Cordyceps have little control of their actions as the fungus takes over their nervous system, before eventually growing out of their bodies.

Fortunately for us, a fast-spreading fungal pandemic is pretty unlikely – but this doesn’t mean fungi aren’t still a concern.

Fascinating fungi

The fungal kingdom is enormous – with an estimated three million different species worldwide.

Most fungi like colder temperatures around 10℃, meaning they’re typically unable to grow at the human body’s internal temperature of 37℃. This is one reason why most fungal infections in humans tend to stay on the skin where it’s cooler (think athletes foot and ringworm). It’s also why only a small number of fungi are able to cause infections in humans relative to the size of the fungal kingdom.

But a few species of fungi grow in warmer temperatures – and these are the ones that cause life-threatening infections. Some fungi, such as Candida yeast, can even live in our gut as part of the microbiome, and can escape into the blood and organs when we become ill with serious conditions (such as cancer).

And just as one of the characters in The Last of Us suggests, climate change may present new problems. Warming global temperatures mean fungi must adapt. This may increase the number of species which can cause serious infections in humans. There’s some evidence to suggest this may already be happening.

For instance, the fungus Candida auris is extremely concerning, since it’s resistant to nearly all antifungal drugs. It can spread rapidly around hospitals and care homes, causing serious infections in people with weak 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 makes Candida auris stand out is its ability to grow at higher temperatures – able to withstand up to 42℃.

A fictional version of the real-life cordyceps ‘zombie’ virus caused the fungal pandemic in The Last of Us. shunfa Teh/ Shutterstock

The emergence of Candida auris in three continents almost simultaneously has researchers theorising the warming global climate may have contributed to its rise. Whether further global temperature increases leads to more dangerous fungal super-bugs remains to be seen.

Fungal infections

But even if a fungus is able to adapt and grow at warmer temperatures, it’s still unlikely it will spread through a population the same way a virus might.

Most fungal infections aren’t like other infectious diseases, in that someone infected with one usually can’t give it to someone else. That’s because most fungal infections tend to only infect people with specific risk factors – such as people with weak immune systems.

Fungal infections tend also not to spread between people because of the way infections start. Many serious fungal infections begin in the lungs, after inhaling fungal spores in the air. Although we each inhale hundreds of fungal spores daily, we almost never get sick because our immune system is highly efficient at destroying spores.

If the immune system fails and spores germinate in the lung, they can form different types of fungal cells that cause infection. But there’s little evidence to suggest fungi will also produce airborne spores once inside our lungs – meaning that while we can inhale fungal spores, we can’t exhale them.

Serious fungal infections can spread from the lungs into other organs – including the brain. Fungal brain infections are among the most lethal fungal infections. Most of these are caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus neoformans, which causes cryptococcal meningitis.

Around 100,000 people die from this disease every year. No other fungal infection causes more deaths in humans.

Cryptococcal meningitis happens when a person with a defective immune system – usually caused by Aids – inhales the fungal spores. The fungus escapes the lungs and gets into the brain – although exactly how this happens isn’t well understood. Once in the brain, infected patients experience symptoms such as severe headache, fever, vision problems and seizures.

While the infection is treatable with anti-fungal drugs, these are expensive – meaning those who need them can’t afford them. The Cryptococcus fungus can also become resistant to these anti-fungals.

But while there are certainly fungal infections which can spread to the brain, we probably don’t have to worry about the zombie Cordyceps fungi adapting to infect us as it does in The Last of Us – well, at least not anytime soon.

Cordyceps is not adapted to grow at our internal body temperature, nor is it able to contend with our immune system (which is far more advanced than that of an insect’s) to infect both our brain and nervous system at the same time. It would take many thousands of years of evolution for it to overcome this.

Although fungal infections are unlikely to cause a worldwide pandemic or zombie apocalypse, there’s still reason to be concerned. The number of people becoming ill with a serious fungal infections has been steadily rising over the last half century. This is concerning as we’re much less able to treat fungal infections compared to other types of infections because we have fewer antifungals.

Developing these drugs is also tricky, as fungi share similar biochemistry to our own bodies. The rise of drug-resistant fungi also puts us at threat. It’s clear more attention needs to be given to the potential dangers of fungi before it’s too late.

Rebecca A. Drummond receives funding from the Medical Research Council and Academy of Medical Sciences.

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Government

Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a…

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Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a large administrative state is the mischief agencies can get up to when no one is watching.

Specifically, they highlight the overreach of the Agriculture Department, which expanded food-stamp benefits by evading the process for determining benefits and end-running Congressional review.

Exhibit A in the over-reach is the fact that the cost of the federal food stamps program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased to a record $119.5 billion in 2022, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture...

Food Stamp costs have literally exploded from $60.3 billion in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, to the record-setting $119.5 billion in 2022.

In 2019, the average monthly per person benefit was $129.83 in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That increased by 78 percent to $230.88 in 2022.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the number of participants had increased from 35.7 million in 2019 to 41.2 million in 2022...

All of which is a little odd - the number of people on food stamps remains at record highs while the post-COVID-lockdown employment picture has improved dramatically...

Source: Bloomberg

If any of this surprises you, it really shouldn't given that 'you, the people' voted for the welfare state. However, as WSJ chided: "abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that."

In its first review of USDA, the GAO skewered Agriculture’s process for having violated the Congressional Review Act, noting that the “2021 [Thrifty Food Plan] meets the definition of a rule under the [Congressional Review Act] and no CRA exception applies. Therefore, the 2021 TFP is subject to the requirement that it be submitted to Congress.” GAO’s second report says “officials made this update without key project management and quality assurance practices in place.”

Abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that. The GAO review won’t unwind the increase, which requires action by the USDA. But the GAO report should resonate with taxpayers who don’t like to see the politicization of a process meant to provide nutrition to those in need, not act as a vehicle for partisan agency staffers to impose their agenda without Congressional approval.

All of this undermines transparency and accountability for a program that provided food stamps to some 41 million people in 2021. The Biden Administration is using the cover of the pandemic to expand the entitlement state beyond what Congress authorized.

The question now is, will House Republicans draw attention to this lawlessness and use their power of the purse to stop it to the extent possible with a Democratic Senate.

And don't forget, the US economy is "strong as hell."

Tyler Durden Sat, 01/28/2023 - 09:55

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Spread & Containment

A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Adult Favorite Has Not Come Back

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

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The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

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Spread & Containment

What’s Still Missing on Royal Caribbean Cruises Post Covid

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

Published

on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

Read More

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