The Wellcome Trust has put together an excellent roundtable discussion of the science behind the virus and epidemic in The Last of Us. You'll hear how an event like this would happen from the perspective of a epidemiologist, a member of the Microbiology Society, a member of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and our own sometime contributor: Rich Stanton.
If you've not played The Last of Us, but you are planning on it, there are spoilers in the video below and in the rest of the article:
At the start of The Last of Us there is a full scale outbreak of a fungal virus that kills off a great many in the population and starts a new age for the human race. This is the first topic on the table for the scientists: could an outbreak happen that quickly?
Worryingly, they don't wholly rule it out. They explain that there are systems in place to pick up the early signs of an outbreak, even using things like Twitter to pick up the discussion of a spreading illness. But, one of the scientists pointed out how easy it is to overwhelm public services like the police, pointing to the London Riots as an example. (Back in 2011, when there were widespread riots across London, it became clear how difficult a job it is for 10,000 police to control a city of 7 million people.)
The collected advice from the scientists for if an outbreak like this were to happen in real life: stay inside.
I don't want to spoil any of the video, as it really is a fascinating discussion and worth watching for yourself. While you're at it, the Wellcome Trust has done some excellent articles on the science of games in the past that are a great read.