By: Michael Kyllo-Kittleson
The other night I was browsing Netflix and came across one of my favorite television shows: Deadliest Warrior. I can admit it, I love this show! It airs on Spike TV (yup, the station for “guys”) but whatever; it has got some good stuff. Anyway, Deadliest Warrior is a show where they take two past great warriors that lived in different eras or in completely different areas and match them against one another to see who would have won if they had fought in real life. They’ve done people like Apache vs. Gladiator, Ninja vs. Spartan, Green Beret vs. Spetsnaz, etc. They have a medical trauma doctor, ex-military, and other experts that help run the process. It is actually rather scientific – check it out if you have time, but heads up, it can get a little glory from time to time.
On this night I was looking for one I wanted to watch and came across the obvious winner: Vampires vs. Zombies. I had no idea what to expect or how they would test this but I was surprised, they did some really cool things! Again, watch it if you have time, it is the last one in season 3!
During the episode, the doctor said something that got me thinking: he said, “there are viruses out there that resemble zombiedom and the most recent has been the H1N1 virus…”
I’ve always heard suggestion and talk that the rabies virus was the closet thing out there that could result in something like zombies if modified correctly. Needless to say I was curious and got to looking. Apparently there are a handful of things out there that could create zombies …in an EXTREMLY mutated best-case scenario kind of situation.
Zombies have taken over pop culture and intriguing many for a very long time. Heck, even the CDC has a page titled: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.
How much have zombies worked their way into everyday thought? During summer 2012 there was a raise in cannibalism throughout North America (yes folks, this was not long ago!) in places like Canada, Florida, New Jersey, Washington, and Maryland.
The actions range from a growling man stripping naked and attempted to eat the face of a homeless man clean off in Florida. To a man in New Jersey stabbing HIMSELF 50 times, removing his intestines and throwing them at police. To a man killing his roommate and eating his heart …among other things… in Baltimore.
Gross and unreal huh?!
Inside of chopping it up (no pun intended) to some people just go very crazy many people tossed around the idea of a zombie virus taking over North America. The CDC literally had to come out and make a public statement about how there is no zombie virus. Like come on now!
But what if there was? What would cause it? Curious? Well, here goes…
1. Sleeping Sickness
In 2005 the BBC did an article about this and the headline, I kid you not, was as follows: “The disease that makes people zombies.” This is most common in Africa where the tsetse fly passes the parasite, Trypanosoma brucei. Bad news? There is currently no cure for it or way to prevent the infection once you’ve been bitten (sounds a little zombie-ish?). It kills about 50,000 to 70,000 people every year.
Professor Sanjeev Krishna, University of London, was interviewed for the BBC piece and explained:
“At first it will cause headaches, aching muscles and maybe itching. But in the late stages, when the parasites have invaded the brain, the signs become more obvious and ominous. Victims find it hard to concentrate. They become irritable, their speech is slurred and they stop eating. Their daily rhythm becomes disrupted to such an extent that they can’t sleep at night and find it almost impossible to stay awake during the day. It even becomes very hard for them to do simple mental tasks, such as drawing a straight line. This is an infection that carries nightmarish qualities, reducing many of its victims to a zombie-like state before they go into a coma and die. Those that do survive can be left with irreparable brain damage.”
“Melarsoprol is one of the few treatments available (and that rather dubiously assumes that the average infected person has access to any medical care), but it’s over fifty years old and contains enough arsenic to kill 1 in 20 people that are treated with it. And even if a patient survives the ordeal, they remain at risk of contracting the disease again later.
Now, this is the one we hear about all the time when it comes to zombies, good ol’ rabies.
“The rabies virus causes massive inflammation, or swelling, of the brain, and it’s most often transmitted by bites from infected animals. About 55,000 people die annually from rabies, with almost all of these deaths occurring in Asia and Africa. Although vaccines do exist they have to be administered before the onset of symptoms if the patient is to survive. Again, the symptoms of rabies sound rather like those of the walking dead: full or partial paralysis, mental impairment, agitation and strange behavior, mania, and finally delirium.”
Though it has been deemed medically possible it is really hypothetical and apparently highly unlikely.
Then there is the issue of transmitting it – human-to-human rabies transmission is tough and does not happen often. Not to mention when rabies is transmitted it takes awhile for the symptoms to manifest, which would be a problem for the whole zombie take over thing. The rest of us non-infected ones would have plenty of time to quarantine the infected. Rabies would have to be manipulated with something that would increase its ease of transferability from human to human AS WELL AS the speed of which the virus takes hold. This is not like the movies when someone is bitten and within 5 second they fall into the zombie ranks.
From one of my sources since they explain it better than I could… link is at the bottom of the page post:
“This isn’t technically a disease but rather a condition with a lot of different possible causes. Cancer, poison, injury, and infection are all possible causes of premature cell death.
Whatever its external (or, in the case of cancer or infarction, internal but extraordinary) cause, necrosis triggers a series of event that can lead to even greater negative effects outside the affected area. The dead tissue stops sending signals to the nervous system, and necrotic cells can release dangerous chemicals that hurt nearby, still healthy cells. If the lysosome membrane inside the cells is damaged, enzymes can be released that can also harm surrounding cells.
This chain reaction can cause the necrosis to spread (and if it spreads over a great enough area, it becomes gangrene) and can ultimately be fatal. The only way to cure the condition is through a process known as debridement, which is simply the removal of necrotic tissue. If the dead area is too large, this may require amputation.”
For all the groans and moans of the zombie dysarthria could point to that. It is a disorder that affects the motor controls of human speech. This is rather short and sweet but couple it with other symptoms and BOOM, the zombie pieces are all coming together.
Again from the source, Real Diseases That Will Make You Act Just like a Zombie:
“Both zombie folklore and leprosy have a long, long history. Armies of the flesh-eating undead can be traced all the way back to the roughly tenth century BCE Akkadian work The Epic of Gilgamesh, which drew on earlier Sumerian mythology and was one of the first substantial written works in human history. Cases of leprosy have been reported going back some four thousand years throughout Eurasia and northern Africa, including China, India, and Egypt. Considering a common feature of zombies is their rotting flesh and decaying body parts, it would seem like leprosy and its similar-sounding symptoms would be a natural inspiration for such stories.
Well…sort of. The truth is (as usual) rather more complicated. First of all, it’s a myth that leprosy causes body parts to rot away and fall off – indeed, there really aren’t any diseases that can actually make limbs fall off (although, as discussed earlier, necrosis can necessitate the amputation of dead limbs). Leprosy can cause damage and numbness in its victims, which could cause a slow, shuffling walk that might have inspired the gait that we associate with zombies. The main external symptom of leprosy is the outbreak of extensive skin lesions, which gives the skin a diseased, decaying appearance not unlike that of the common conceptions of zombies.
Fortunately, leprosy is pretty much under control at this point, certainly compared to sleeping sickness. Over 95% of people are naturally immune to the disease, and over fifteen million people have been cured of the disease in the last two decades. It’s a remarkable turnaround for once of the most feared and stigmatized diseases in human history – indeed, for centuries leprosy evoked the same kind of irrational dread that we might now feel towards the dead rising from the graves en masse, ready to devour our brains.
Although there are definitely a few connections to be drawn between the symptoms of leprosy and the supposed traits of zombies, maybe the most fascinating overlap can be found in the story recounted in John Tayman’s 2007 book The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai. As the Zombie Research Society reports, the book describes how the lepers at the Hawaiian colony were literally treated like they were the walking dead.
The leprosy patients were judged legally dead, their spouses were granted immediate divorces on the grounds they were basically widows anyway, and their wills were executed. The patients were then banished to a remote island where they were left to die, although some survived on the island for decades. This tragic part of Hawaiian history – a story with plenty of echoes elsewhere – is pretty close to how one might expect society would actually treat zombies if they existed.”
6. Poisons and “Zombie Powder”
There are indeed poisons out there that can put individuals into a comatose state making them appear as dead as one can appear.
There was a story about a Haitian man, Clairvius Narcisse, who was declared dead and buried. However, later was unburied and went on about his life in a very zombied state.
The belief in zombies as well as magic and voodoo is unmatched across the globe. These things are not something to mess with or joke about to these people. They have created and studied the creation of things like “Zombie Powder” throughout there history with what as been said to be some results. It was said people were given the powder and then forced to work on sugar plantations. May seem like common folk lore but there has been a far amount of documentation and honestly, ya never know.
The science behind the comatose and “zombie powder” is there. There are many different poisons that can cause these results, two of which are the poison from a Japanese blowfish (tetrodotoxin) and bufotoxin.
As far as the “zombie powder” it included components like the drug datura stramonium. It is a strange drug that puts user (or victim) into an emotionless and trance-like state.
7. Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome
Come again?! CNN had a great zombie article about why studying this is important. In the section “how a zombie virus would be spread” this is what they answer, ANSD.
“The virus has several brain-destroying components, one of which is a “prion,” meaning a protein like the one that causes mad cow disease. In real life, prions twist when they are in an acidic environment and become dangerous, Schlozman said. How our own environment has changed to make prions infectious — getting from the soil to the cows in mad cow disease, for instance — is still a mystery.
Now here’s something to send chills up your spine: In Schlozman’s world, airborne prions can be infectious, meaning mad cow disease and similar nervous-system destroyers could theoretically spread just like the flu. Swiss and German researchers recently found that mice that had only one minute of exposure to aerosols containing prions died of mad cow disease” — Really interesting, link is at the bottom, read it!
8. Euhaplorchis californiensis
This is something that effects fish brains and results in them swimming and flopping around close to the surface of the water, which obviously makes them an easy dinner target for birds.
9. Toxoplasma gondii
This is found in cats and rats, changing their normal behavior in predator/prey norms.
10. Spinochordodes tellinii
This is kind of a sad one. It is a parasite that interferes with the brain and drives grasshoppers to essentially commit suicide by way of drowning.
^^ These last three are really nothing to fear yet because they cannot really do much to us as is but there are scientists who believe and are researching the effect on humans. There has been some head way in find what true effects they have on humans – and there have been some findings that support claims in changes of human behavior. Again, nothing to really fear yet, but what if they were mutated or coupled with something else? Hmmm..
So, are zombies upon us?! Probably not, but there are some very interesting things and claims out there to consider before you just completely right off the possibility.