Researchers Studying Risk From ‘Zombie’ Infection Apocalypse – OpEd
By Jim Kouri
More than 30 Kent State University students are spending seven weeks this semester investigating a zombie apocalypse right in their own backyard. They’re enrolled in Zombie Outbreak, a new emergency preparedness and biohazard course taught by Health Policy & Management Assistant Professor John Staley, Ph.D., MSEH, and Environmental Health Professor Christopher J. Woolverton, Ph.D. The course is covering the emergency response system, what public health professionals do in a variety of disasters and individual responsibility for hazard preparedness.
On April 17, the class met with 10 City of Kent and Portage County officials to discuss appropriate courses of action in preparing for and responding to a virus-induced zombie outbreak. The students learned who is responsible for hazardous materials, biological health threats, emergency preparedness and response, as well as how information is verified and communicated to the public during emergencies. University and Kent city police and fire responders were represented as well.
Better funding and cooperation by the international community is needed to prevent a ‘zombie apocalypse’, argues a U.S. expert in the Christmas issue of The BMJ, a British medical journal based in London.
“For the past 20 years BMJ has been delivering a wide range of high quality, evidence based knowledge, best practice, and learning support to help improve the decisions healthcare professionals make every day. Our own technology platform conforms to industry standards and underpins these product websites, API and mobile delivery,” according to a press statement.
Associate Professor Tara Smith, from Kent State University in Ohio, says zombie-like infections have been identified throughout the world and are becoming more common and a source of greater concern to public health professionals.
And yet there has been little formal study of the infections that may result in zombification of patients. She therefore provides an overview of zombie infections and suggestions for research investment in order to prevent a zombie apocalypse:
Though the properties of zombies may vary, what unites many outbreaks is a disease that is spread via bite, explains Smith.
Of infectious causes proposed, the Solanum virus has been the most extensively studied. “It has a 100% mortality rate, and if exposed to fluids of an infected individual, zombification is certain.”
Non-viral zombie causes include a form of the Black Plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, the cordyceps fungus, and a mutated strain of the prion infection, commonly known as “mad cow” disease.
Symptoms of infection during a zombie outbreak tend to be fairly uniform, regardless of the nature of the pathogen, says Smith. The incubation period is highly variable, with development of symptoms ranging from mere seconds to hours or days.
Other symptoms may include a shambling gait, tendency to moan, loss of dexterity and prior personality traits, and the eventual rotting of flesh, she adds. In rare cases, zombies may be highly intelligent and self-aware, and lacking in the typical bite-and-flesh-eating tendencies.
Due to the rapid onset of zombie outbreaks and their society-destroying characteristics, prevention and treatment is a largely unexplored area of investigation, notes Smith.
She also points out that “equilibrium with the zombie infection is rarely achieved” and believes that the documented rise of multiple zombie pathogens “should be a wake-up call to the international community that we need additional funding and cooperation to address these looming apocalyptic disease threats.”
The Zombie Survival Guide 2003 notes: “At this rate, attacks will only increase, culminating in one of two possibilities. The first is that world governments will have to acknowledge, both privately and publicly, the existence of the living dead, creating special organizations to deal with the threat. In this scenario, zombies will become an accepted part of daily life – marginalized, easily contained, perhaps even vaccinated against. A second, more ominous scenario would result in an all-out war between the living and the dead…”