Most experts agree that a zombie outbreak is very, very unlikely. In the case of the dead rising from their graves, they believe it is scientifically impossible. Nevertheless, researchers from many different areas of math and science have developed theories based on zombies. You know, just in case.
10. Best Place to Wait Out an Outbreak
According to a study from Cornell University, if you’re in the United States and there’s a zombie outbreak, the best place to go is the Rocky Mountains. Using disease modeling, they tracked how a zombie outbreak may go if the virus was passed via bites. Their models found that the spread would slow down when it reached less populated areas and would take months to get into mountainous areas. On the other end of the spectrum, the worst place to be in America is central Pennsylvania. It’s densely populated and close to large cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, where massive swarms would form. They might all converge on places like Scranton. Poor, poor Dwight Schrute.
However, if you aren’t in the United States when the zombie apocalypse happens, the same logic applies. You should get to the mountains. Interestingly enough, though, if everyone is heading there, the population could increase. That helps the virus spread, so maybe we’re screwed no matter what happens.
9. The Pentagon’s CONOP 8888
Believe it or not, the Pentagon has already planned for a zombie outbreak. Their program called CONOP 8888 are exercises on how to quash a zombie uprising. The exercise is pretty thorough, with preparations for eight different types of zombies. The first is pathogenic zombies, caused by infectious agents like in World War Z. Next is radiation zombies. These were turned into zombies because of exposure to radiation particles, or some nuclear disaster. The third type is evil magic zombies, which are caused by a curse or something involving the occult. Next is space zombies, which are caused by spores or toxins that came from space.
After that is weaponized zombies, which are the result of a biologically engineered virus. Fifth is symbiant induced zombies, which is something that attaches to its host and controls them, but can be removed (think Invasion of the Body Snatchers). The seventh type of zombie is a vegetarian zombie. These aren’t interested in humans for food. They want vegetation. In fact, in the report it notes that the zombies say “graaaains” instead of “braaains.” The problem with them is that they are devastating to crops. Finally, there is the chicken zombie, which is actually a real “zombie” problem. It happens when old hens haven’t been properly euthanized, and they dig themselves out of their graves.
The Pentagon says that these are merely training exercises and are metaphors for other problems employees could encounter. However, they didn’t say the solutions to the exercise couldn’t be used in the case of a zombie outbreak.
8. Disrupting the Brain Waves
One of the most unique twists in the zombie genre was the one employed by Stephen King in his 2006 novel Cell, which was made into a regrettable movie in 2016. Nevertheless, the way people turn into zombies in King’s story is that everyone in the world’s cell phone rings at the same time. It sends a signal into the brains of anyone who answers it. This transmission disrupts their brainwaves, increasing the feelings of rage and causing anyone who heard the transmission to turn into a homicidal maniac.
Amazingly, according to research, cell phone signals altering brain waves isn’t just fiction. It may actually already be happening. One study found that signals from phones caused insomnia for people when a phone was turned on near their head. In another study, they found cell phones increased brain activity when an activated phone was placed near their head.
While we admit there’s a huge jump from insomnia to zombism, if there was a transmission that somehow altered the limbic system in the brain, then a Cell-like scenario might be possible. The limbic system is where things like emotions and adrenaline are stored. If the transmission were to alter the waves so that it increased the listener’s rage and amped up adrenaline, then…well, it would make The Purge look like a church service.
7. How to Deal With an Outbreak
The world’s first mathematical model for surviving a zombie attack comes from the great, amazing, and outstanding Carleton University and the not-as-great University of Ottawa. Er, there’s no authorial bias, we swear. Their model took a look at what would happen if infectious reanimated corpse zombies, like in The Walking Dead, started rising from their graves in cities around the world and infected people. They said that within three days, in a city of 500,000, over half of the population would be infected.
The key would be to deal with the outbreak as quickly as possible. Aggressive quarantines and developing a cure may work, but the chances aren’t good. Instead, their model suggests a solution that is taken in a lot of movies: wiping them out. As they said in their paper, “hit them hard and hit them fast.”
6. How Does the Zombie Brain Work?
The brain is the most important organ for a zombie. Without it, or if it’s too severely damaged, the zombie dies. However, zombies clearly don’t have control over their whole brain, or they wouldn’t act like…well, zombies. This sparked the curiosity of two neuroscientists, one from the University of California-San Diego and another from Carnegie Mellon University. They wanted to know what parts of the brain zombies need in order to function.
In their diagnosis, called Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, they decided that slow moving zombies, like in the original Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead, seem to have a problem with their cerebellum. That’s the region at the back of the head that helps with coordinating movements. All zombies, both fast and slow, seem to lack a working memory. They have no social skills, they can’t plan attacks, and they have no cognitive control. Without cognitive control, they can’t delay their gratification, and always want to eat human flesh. All of this would suggest that there is something wrong with their frontal lobe.
5. Zombie Decay
When it comes to decay, there are two problems with the depictions of reanimated corpses in many TV shows and movies. The first is rigor mortis. At least four hours after death, the body releases lactic acid, which makes the whole body go rigid. Essentially, it causes a full body cramp, so freshly dead zombies wouldn’t be able to move for a few days after dying. The second problem is that often you see zombies with milky white eyes. But when the body decays, the first thing to go is the eyes. So if there was a zombie outbreak, chances are older zombies would be eyeless.
As for the rest of the body, decay starts within 24 hours of death. Depending on the environment where the zombie is located, the decay may be rapid or slow. However, in general, within three days, the whole body would be showing decay. Within a few weeks, everything in the body, except for the bones, liquefies. The body fills with gas. The skin becomes sallow, the body bloats, and when it gets too full, the gas and liquid starts seeps out the orifices. Ligaments soon begin to give way, so limbs fall off. Within two to three years, the zombie would be nothing but parts of a skeleton.
One interesting thing to note is that we mentioned that the environment plays a big factor in decaying zombies. Well, The Walking Dead takes place in Georgia. Bodies would definitely decay fast there because of the heat and humidity. So maybe if all the characters in The Walking Dead just chilled for a few years in the mountains instead of beating each other to death with barbed wire wrapped bats in Georgia, they might survive the zombie apocalypse.
4. Zombies Wouldn’t Eat Brains
If a zombie were to talk, what would it say? “Braaains” is probably the first thing that pops into your head. This zombie trope comes from the 1985 zombie classic The Return of the Living Dead, where the walking dead munch on the brains of their victims. In reality, if zombies needed to feed off the brains of people, there’s a good chance that they’d starve. Mainly because unless the head was smashed open, there is no way that a zombie would be able to bite through someone’s skull.
The problem is humans’ mouths are too flat and weak to get any decent bite strength. For greater bite strength, having a long mouth like an alligator or a fox is much more advantageous. For example, an adult alligator has a bite strength of 9,000 pounds of force and a 15 pound fox has a bite strength of 532. As for humans? Well, we have about 300, so definitely not enough to break through a skull. That takes about 1,100 pounds of force to just fracture it, let alone break it open to get to the brains inside.
According to Steven C. Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and author of The Zombie Autopsies, the most likely way people could be turned into zombies is a protein called proteinaceous infectious particle, or simply known as a prion. Unlike viruses, prions aren’t alive, and are almost impossible to destroy. Also, there’s no cure for the diseases they cause.
The first recorded instance of a prion-related disease was in Papua New Guinea in the 1950s. Members of a native tribe had developed a disorder with uncontrollable tremors and fits of laughter. The disease was linked to the tribe’s history of cannibalism. Another notable instance of a prion disease making the headlines happened in the 1990s. That was mad cow disease, and its human variation called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease causes the infected to develop holes in the brain, which leads to memory loss, anxiety, personality change, and sudden jerky movements, among other symptoms. It also results in death within a year of infection. Supposedly, these diseases make it look like the brains of the inflicted have suffered a shotgun blast.
If a prion was somehow attached to a virus that attacked the frontal lobe and cerebellum, it may make the infected walk and “talk” like a zombie. The most ideal viruses that prions could attach themselves to are herpes, West Nile, and encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain’s casing. The problem is that after infection, the prion could possibly put the person into a coma. So, you’d need to add sodium bicarbonate to the mix. This would induce metabolic alkalosis, which would raise the body’s pH level and limit the spread of the prion just enough so the brain works, but the infected is essentially a mindless zombie.
One of the most critically acclaimed and beloved video games in recent memory is The Last of Us. In the survival horror game, a mutant Cordyceps fungus turns people into cannibalistic zombies called “clickers.” After surviving for a while, the clickers seek out a warm place, where they die and release spores. This further spreads the disease. While the game is known for its story and gameplay, it also has one of the most plausible zombie stories because Cordyceps fungus is a real thing that turns insects and other fungi into zombies. There are thousands of different types of Cordyceps fungi and each of them specifically infect one species.
After an insect is infected, out of its body a sporocarp begins to grow. A sporocarp is a cone shaped biological structure that is produced by fungi and in the case of Cordyceps fungi, it grows about an inch or two tall within three weeks. When it gets too big, it bursts and emits poisonous spores which kills any insects near it. The spores are very powerful. One infected ant could wipe out an entire colony. In fact, when an ant does get infected, another ant carries the infected ant far away, effectively quarantining it.
1. Rage Virus
One of the most influential zombie movies of all time is 28 Days Later. It introduced a fast zombie that was the result of a virus increasing the rage in people to uncontrollable levels. As terrifying as it was on screen, according to Dr. Samita Andreansky, a virologist at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, by mixing several mutated viruses, it would be possible to create a rage virus in real life.
At the heart of the theoretical rage virus is rabies. Currently, rabies isn’t a great zombie virus because the symptoms, which include anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, and paralysis, don’t appear until a week to a year after infection. However, if the virus mutated so the symptoms came on earlier, it would be more effective as a rage virus. Next, to ramp up the effects of rabies and increase the rage, Andreansky says that if you were to add in elements from measles, it would alter the personality of the infected. A third virus that would help is encephalitis, which would cause a fever that would increase the aggression.
Finally, if all of this was mixed with something highly contagious and airborne (like flu), then it could be absolutely devastating to humanity. This combination could create a virus similar to the one in 28 Days Later. Only since it’d be airborne, it’d be far more devastating given how much more contagious it’d be. The good news is that this could never happen naturally. However, we should point out that the rage virus in 28 Days Later didn’t develop naturally, either.