Space & Innovation

Zombie Apocalypse Watch: A PSA

All I want for Christmas is a 10-year supply of canned food, a weapons arsenal and a massive underground doomsday shelter. Continue reading →

All I want for Christmas is a 10-year supply of canned goods and dried food, a weapons arsenal deep enough to equip a small army and a massive underground bunker to provide a shelter long enough to ride out virtually any doomsday scenario.

What are you asking Santa for to prepare for the possibility of a zombie apocalypse? And perhaps the more important question, what are governments doing to prepare for a world overrun by the living dead?

Know Your Zombies: Photos

In a light-hearted article in The BMJ just in time for Christmas, author and biostatistician Tara Smith of Kent State University in Ohio sounds an international call to arms among the medical and public health communities to prevent a zombie apocalypse.

Citing a couple of news reports, a handful of scientific studies and many more works of science fiction, Smith identifies common symptoms of pathogens responsible for zombification, including a variable but often short incubation period, loss of dexterity and personality, aggression and necrosis.

Smith also zooms in on a number of candidate pathogens that could be behind a major zombie outbreak, including a variation of Y. pestis, a form of the Black Plague bacterium; a mutation of the prion infection, better known as mad cow disease; and the Cordyceps fungus.

A History of ‘Real' Zombies

Cordyceps include more than 400 species of parasitic fungi that target primarily insects and other arthropods. Upon invading a specimen, Cordyceps replaces the host's tissue with its own body. Some species completely take over a host's behavior in order to optimize the distribution of fungus spores once Cordyceps sprouts and its host dies.

Mapping zombie outbreaks isn't totally a frivolous thought exercise. Providing statistical models for responsiveness to one particular kind of public health emergency, albeit an entirely fictional one at the moments, could yield data and show area for improvement that would be invaluable in a real epidemiological crisis, according to a study presented by Cornell University researchers earlier this year.

The Cornell project documented a nationwide zombie epidemic in the United States, taking into account disease vectors, resource constraints and random events, such as zombies infecting a human or humans killing a zombie.

Video: Can a Fungus Turn Us Into Zombies?

As seen in the map above, the simulation shows the rapid deterioration of urban landscapes while zombies more gradually found their way into more sparsely populated rural areas with pockets of survivors outlasting the epidemic. For those taking notes, evidently the northern Rockies is the best place in the United States to ride out a zombie apocalypse.

Zombie outbreaks aren't a threat in immediate future. But when the rage virus comes knocking at your door and you don't have an emergency plan for you and your household, don't say we didn't warn you.

Happy holidays!