These days, it seems you can’t swing a cricket bat without hitting a zombie reference in the media. Zombies are in the theatres, on primetime TV, and even invading our classic literature (i.e. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!).

The modern zombie is more often a terrifying creation of mad science rather than a creature called back from beyond the grave by magic. This makes the zombie a prime candidate to go under the microscope for a look at the science behind these angry, uncoordinated, mindless creatures. (Also, see Monster Science parts 1 and 2: Werewolves and Vampires)

Did You Know?
The origin of the word “zombie” could come from the West Indian term for “ghost,” jumbie, or the Kongo word nzambi, meaning “spirit of a dead person.”

One of the many theories is that violent, zombie-like behaviour could appear after a person is infected by a mutated virus - something more potent than the flu but similar to rabies. In fact, a number of horror movies have named rabies (a viral disease) as the starting point for a zombie-virus variant. When you hear the symptoms you’ll understand why.

Rabies is a virus – infecting the central nervous system - that causes inflammation of the brain, which leads to fever, delirium, abnormal behavior and agitation. Additionally, the disease is most often transmitted through bite wounds. In humans, rabies symptoms can take days or even months to appear. In the movies, however, zombies are transformed almost instantly. A more potent, fast-acting, airborne virus, like rabies with traits of the influenza virus, would be necessary for a real life zombie outbreak to even be imaginable.

Did You Know?
Some viruses, like the flu, mutate so quickly and so often that we have to immunize against them on a regular basis.

Though it’s nearly impossible that an actual “zombie virus” could spread amongst humans, there are some poisons – called neurotoxins – that can make a person seem dead, even though they aren’t! Japanese blowfish, also know as fugu, contain these types of neurotoxins. In Haiti, where zombies feature quite often in cultural myths, there has been some research done to suggest that sorcerers used a powder containing neurotoxins to create a zombie-like state. However, this research has been called into question.

Did You Know?
There is a parasitic fungus that causes ants to act like zombies

While the modern zombie is typically born from the spread of disease and not created by voodoo magic, I sleep soundly at night knowing that the zombie apocalypse is purely a thing of fiction.

Learn More!

How Your Immune System Works

National Geographic: "Zombie Virus" Possible via Rabies-Flu Hybrid?

Article first posted April 21, 2011

CurioCity writer

Article written by a CurioCity expert.

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