While most people consider the subject of zombification, or the reanimation of corpses through disease infection, a mere product of science fiction, a researcher in Ohio has come out with a study that discusses how infections spread in order to help people react to such emergencies better.
The British Medical Journal's Christmas edition features research conducted by Kent State University (KSU) scientist Tara Smith regarding the pathology and epidemiology of what she refers to as zombie infections.
The paper was based on data collected from available sources, such as horror comic books and films, as well as from various real-world literary works on zombies.
Smith, who is also a member of the Zombie Research Society (ZRS), ended her study by calling out the need for establishing a global unified effort to handle health crisis concerning infections.
"The documented rise of multiple zombie pathogens should be a wake-up call to the international community that we need additional funding and cooperation among scientists and government officials to tackle the looming threat of apocalyptic disease," Smith said.
Origin of Zombies
According to Smith, zombies have been in existence since the 1500s. These mindless creatures are known by different names including Zed, Zs, stiffs, biters and walkers.
The common definition of a zombie has undergone several changes throughout the years, but certain aspects remain the same. For instance, zombies are usually perceived as being a reanimated corpse of a human that has been infected by disease. This infection is believed to cause the corpse to become relentlessly aggressive and highly infectious.
Smith said that the rage zombies that caused the fictionalized quarantine of the United Kingdom in 2002 were a relatively new phenomenon compared to the classic reanimated zombies that were already in existence for millennia. This is a reference to the events featured in the popular film "28 Days Later."
Symptoms and Transmission of Infection
Regardless of the pathogen's nature, Smith said that zombie infections seem to have uniform symptoms. The period of incubation, however, highly varies. Symptoms can develop within a few seconds or up to days after exposure.
"Infected people may clinically die and reanimate," Smith pointed out.
"Or they may remain alive but with the same aggressive tendencies and taste for human flesh as reanimated zombies."
Zombie infections are often be transmitted after a healthy individual gets bitten by a diseased person, but there have also been reports of transmission made through animal bites and weaponized zombie pathogens in the past.
Smith said that researchers have experienced difficulties in exploring possible preventive measures and treatments because of the immediate onset of zombie infections and their ability to quickly cause the collapse of societies.
She explained that severing areas of the body exposed to the infection has been proven effective in certain cases but it is not considered to be preventative. The location of the zombie bite or the speed of incubation of the virus often renders the practice useless.
Smith added that furthers studies are needed to develop treatments that could help prevent individuals from turning into zombies.
Real versus Reel
Smith may appear to have used material from various media of the science fiction and horror ilk to write her paper in the name of good fun, but her accurate assessment of potential health threats echoes concerns regarding real-life pandemics.
The study provides the public with a realistic view on the risks and transmissibility of actual pathogens that could cause far-reaching implications to society.
Smith said that the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa had revealed lapses in communications between international organizations that were handling the spread of the disease.
Even though the incident was isolated in West Africa, Smith explained that if a similar outbreak occurs again and spreads globally, it would cause more harm than what Ebola did in the African region.
A representative for The British Medical Journal said that the publication of the article was part of the journal's long-running tradition of featuring light-hearted material for its Christmas edition. It still went through the same peer-review processes that all other Christmas articles go through each year.