The Doctor took one look at the patient…
“He was fine until we got back from holiday” she said. “We have recently been in South America on a bird watching holiday in the Amazon jungle. We had a great holiday and he was fine whilst we were away but ever since we got home he has been behaving increasingly strangely. He has become more and more zombie-like to the point where all he wants to do now is climb up things. What do you think is wrong with him Doctor?”
“Did anything unusual happen whilst you were away? Was anyone else unwell?” the Doctor asked.
“No, everyone else was fine. It’s just him.”
The Doctor then moved to examine the patient. He turned him round and the patient climbed up onto the examination couch. The Doctor drew the curtain and stripped the patient down to his underwear where he noticed some odd fluffy white patches on the patient’s skin, puzzled the Doctor asked the wife if these were “new”!
“Ummm …not really” said the wife.
“When did these first appear?” the Doctor asked.
“Oh I noticed smaller ones whilst we were on holiday but I didn’t think much of them, it was very humid, but they do seem to have got bigger since we got back” she replied.
The Doctor took a swab from a drawer and carefully collected some of the white material onto the end before sealing it into the transport tube.
Leaning forward the Doctor tried to listen to the patient’s heart with his stethoscope but as he leant near, the patient suddenly jerked forward and tried to bite the Doctor. The Doctor leapt back with a yelp and the patient settled down quietly again. The Doctor tried again but again the patient tried to bite the Doctor’s face!
“Crikey that’s weird!” thought the Doctor but maintaining his professionalism he just quietly abandoned his examination and went back to talk to the wife.
“Well, we will need to run some tests to see if we can work out what is going on. I’m going to admit him for observations and we’ll start those tests straight away”.
“But he will be alright Doctor, won’t he?” pleaded the wife.
“Let’s get the tests and then we’ll see where we are up to” answered the Doctor in that non-committal way we use when we haven’t got a clue what is going on.
The patient was gently coaxed onto a trolley and wheeled off to the ward. Blood tests were organised and an MRI brain scan was ordered. The swab was sent to the microbiology laboratory to see if anything could be seen; the clinical details just said “zombie!”
Later that day the Radiologist came running on to the ward to find the Doctor “what the heck is going on!? I’ve never seen anything like this” shrieked the Radiologist …”the brain scan shows multiple filamentous structures branching throughout the brain... the whole brain is riddled with them!!”.
“Come see our patient!” said the Doctor. They went back to see the patient who was becoming increasingly agitated. Every time anyone came near he tried to bite them. He kept trying to climb up on his bed or pull on the curtains, always trying to get higher and higher.
“What are we going to do?” exclaimed the Doctor.
“Call the Microbiologist” answered the Radiologist.
Having heard the story, the Microbiologist rushed into the lab and found the swab. Carefully he made two slides of the sample and stained one with Gram’s stain and the other with cotton blue (the stain for fungi).
Looking down the microscope the Microbiologist muttered “just as I thought… Zombie fungus!” He ran back to the phone to speak to the Doctor again, “Yes, you heard me. Isolate the patient in the side room. Strict barrier precautions and FFP3 masks. Start antifungals, liposomal Amphotericin B, Caspofungin and Posaconazole… anything you can get your hands on. This is Zombie fungus… you have to act quickly but it may already be too late…It is highly contagious”
The treatment was started and the patient was made as comfortable as possible. The Doctors agreed to meet first thing in the morning to see how the patient was doing.
“All we can do is wait and hope that in the morning he has started to improve” said the Doctor to the increasingly anxious wife.
It was an anxious and sleepless night for all concerned. None of those involved were able to get the image of the patient out of their minds and all kept looking at their own skin for fluffy white lesions. All hoped for the best but expected the worst.
The next morning the Doctors arrived on the ward, all looking bleary eyed and bedraggled. The Microbiologist peered cautiously through the window in the patient’s door.
“Oh no,” he gasped “we were too late.”
All took turns looking in. The patient was stood on his bed with his teeth firmly clamped to the railing of his bedside curtains. He was clearly no longer breathing.
The junior Doctor took a double take.
“What the heck is that?” he exclaimed. “Those things sticking out from the top of his head; round bulging bits on top of what look like stalks…what are they!?”
The Microbiologist took another look. “Oh …yes, that’s the fungus and those round bits are the sporangia full of spores ready to release them into the air…”
“RIGHT!” exclaimed the Microbiologist “No one goes in or out of that room until we get a team of experts in with hazmat suits to clear things up. We need to evacuate the rest of the patients off the ward ASAP just in case…your ward is CLOSED with immediate effect”.
They sprang in to action, one collecting the “do not enter” door signs while the rest of the team started the evacuation.
Suddenly the Microbiologist froze. He had heard a sound that filled him with dread. A soft squeaking sound had broken through his thoughts and then the squeaking had stopped. He knew he was too far away to do anything; his actions would be too late…But he had to try…as if in slow motion he turned around shouting… “Nooooooooooo!”
But it was no use; the tea lady had stopped her trolley and was already opening the side-room door calling…“Cup of tea?”
There was a gentle pop and a cloud of white fungus spores filled the ward. A look of horror showed on every face… the zombie apocalypse had begun….
Okay, okay, so I have an over active imagination but the zombie fungus does exist… it just doesn’t affect humans… yet?! But as it is Halloween I couldn’t resist the temptation to tell you about something really scary and horrifying.
There is a species of fungus in the tropical rainforests, especially the Amazon, which really does turn insects into zombies. I know it exists because I have seen it!!! And yes I had many sleepless nights in a hammock afterwards. The best known is called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis or cordyceps fungus for short, but there are many others which cause a similar infection. The main host for Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is the carpenter ant but it can also infect other insects.
Once the insect is locked in place the fungus produces fruiting bodies called sporangia which contain spores. The spores are then released into the air and due to the height the insect achieves in its “zombie” state, the spores can settle out over a wide area, thereby infecting more insects. Needless to say the process kills the insect. Essentially the insect becomes a mindless zombie whose only “thought” is to climb higher and higher until the moment of “puff” and doom is spread onto more unsuspecting insects. Creepy, huh!?
P.S. I’m sure this isn’t the only weird and scary thing out there. Have you come across anything sinister in the bug world that has given you the creeps? Let me know.