The idea of a zombie apocalypse is generally sequestered to the realm of fiction. Films such as “28 Days Later” and “Dawn of the Dead” are thought to be an excellent fantasy for those looking for an escape to a world free from all the complications of modern life where the only thing one must worry about is their own survival from an ever growing horde of enemies. But is it possible a zombie apocalypse could really happen? The reality is more terrifying than we previously thought.
A zombie is defined as a shambling entity with poor coordination and a propensity to attack other beings, preferably by eating them. And while most accounts call for a reanimated corpse, that part is the least likely aspect to ever come true. In reality, a “real zombie” would likely be suffering from a neurological disease similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (AKA CJD). The disease normally can only be transmitted from person to person through bite, although in this case it would be a victim biting a zombie host. The disease is a bacteria often transmitted from victim to host through pituitary hormone transfusions in which the hormones were harvested from a cadaver to a living being. Alternately, if infected meat is ingested (such as in the case of Mad Cow disease) it can result in symptoms that many would say are down-right zombie-like. Sufferers report a shuffling step, hallucinations, lack of coordination, seizures and jerky movement, demantia and delirium, and muscle twitching. Of course these could all be summed up by saying simply, “Acting like a zombie.”
If any number of neurological diseases suddenly became transmissible, we could have a serious problem on our hands. Fortunately nothing like that exists on Earth. Right? Maybe it’s time to diversify your portfolio with canned foods and shotguns. The incredibly prolific Toxoplasma is only one example of brain controlling diseases that seems to want to take over the world. In rats, the parasite infects the brain causing laboratory animals to no longer fear the smell of certain chemicals present in cat urine. This causes the rats to actually be attracted to cats, who then immediately devour the rats and nuzzle up to humans. There are documented brain alterations in all three species. Of course there is no known case of a human infected with toxoplasms suddenly going crazy and biting everything in sight to get the bacteria spread around, but evolution has a funny way of working. This disease is also of particular note, as it is currently estimated a little under half the world’s population currently has it without knowing it.
A disease transmittable through the blood and/or saliva could spread quickly, particularly if the infected were made violent by such a disease (as is the case with rabies in animals). The more violent the more “fit” for survival the disease would be, and therefore evolutionarily zombies seem to be not only a scientific possibility, but a zombie apocalypse over the course of a few thousand years seems more and more likely. Of course none of this is taking into account the terrifying diseases being developed by all countries of the world to be used in germ warfare.
What would the physiology of such a creature be? Rotting corpses would be unlikely, unless a form of necrotizing fasciitis (which is a bacteria that literally rots flesh off the bone) or leprosy were part of the infection. If these were present, the spread through contact or bite would be all the more dangerous. Running zombies would likely be more like feral humans, still clinging to their humanity though being stripped of seratonin, making them mindless killing machines. A sloth-like zombie outbreak would be more likely extended as the metabolism of sufferers would be slowed down significantly. It is also likely that infected individuals would not attack one another, as any form of the disease promoting such behavior would be weeded out in the early days of outbreak.
So how likely is a zombie apocalypse really? Given natural disasters known about in advance several weeks, and the lack of effective response to them, it certainly looks bleak. Of course then again, it has been historically documented that most world governments get their act together eventually. The question is, would it be too late?