Zombies aren’t real, and it’s really good. Because if they were real, according to a new tongue – in – cheek study published in the Christmas issue of The British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Tara Smith, a researcher at Kent State University, summarized the epidemiology and pathology of zombie infections from available source data (for the most part horror films and comic books, but also real-world academic literature on the subject) and concluded that we now need to act as a unified global community to address this pressing ‘health crisis’.
“The documented rise of multiple zombie pathogens should be a wake – up call to the international community that we need additional funding and cooperation between scientists and government officials to address the imminent threat of apocalyptic disease,” says Smith, who is also a member of the Zombie Research Society in addition to her day – to – day work as an infectious disease researcher. (yes, such a club exists).
Zombies have been traced back to the 1500s, she says, and go by various names, including walkers, Zed, Zs, biters, and stiffs. Although zombie definition has changed over time, the classical criteria are a resuscitated human corpse that is relentlessly aggressive, biologically infected, and infectious.
“While reanimated zombies have been documented for potentially thousands of years, rage zombies appear to be a more recent phenomenon,” notes Smith, which ultimately culminated in attacks that led to Britain’s fictionalized quarantine in 2002 (which some of you may remember from 28 Days Later).
“Infection symptoms tend to be fairly uniform, irrespective of the pathogen’s nature, but the incubation period is highly variable, with time for symptoms ranging from seconds to hours or days,” Smith writes. “Infected people may die and reanimate clinically, or they may remain alive but with the same aggressive tendencies and human flesh taste as reanimated zombies.”
Zombie outbreaks are primarily transmitted by bites delivered by zombies, but in the past, there have been reports of insect vectors, animal-based infections, and armed zombie pathogens.
“Prevention and treatment are largely unexplored due to the rapid onset of zombie outbreaks and their socially destructive characteristics,” writes Smith. “In some cases, severing the bitten area from the body has proved successful but is not universally preventive and is sometimes impossible due to the location of the bite or the speed of viral incubation.”
According to Smith, another problem is prevention, which says further research into medicines that could help stop people from becoming zombies is sorely needed.
“Vaccines were difficult to study due to the associated cost and inadequacy of many laboratories to provide adequate containment of zombie pathogens or infected zombies, as well as the diversity of zombifying agents,” she writes.“Vaccine hesitation may make it difficult to achieve social acceptance of a zombie vaccine. Even if effective treatment has been developed, it may need to be taken on an ongoing basis to prevent the person being affected from returning to zombiism.”
“Vaccine hesitation may make it difficult to achieve social acceptance of a zombie vaccine. Even if effective treatment has been developed, it may need to be continuously used to prevent the affected person from returning to zombiism. “We’re talking about scientific issues around the country – tied to zombies,” she told The Washington Post’s, Rachel Feltman. “It’s a way to bring attention to these topics that may not seem interesting otherwise. It’s an infectious disease in my case.”
But while Smith’s paper is all in the name of good fun, her eerily realistic assessment of the theoretical threats posed by zombie outbreaks is not a million miles from the language used to discuss actual pandemics – and if that can get people to think more about the transmissibility and risks of actual pathogens, it’s all the better.
“Naturally,[ Ebola in West Africa] came from nowhere, in urban areas where it was never seen before,” Smith said. “But we had quite terrible communications worldwide–a lot of hype and a lot of misunderstanding, and that was really isolated in West Africa alone. If we had something like that but it was spread across the globe, we would be in real trouble.”