True Zombieism Part 2: The real science behind the undead

Part 2: The real cause of Zombieism

In the last article, we identified the four symptoms a real Zombie would likely have. Today, we’re going to examine what biological menace might make them a reality.

Many things can cause disease in humans: viruses, rogue prions and parasites to name but a few.

A virus is a very good potential candidate for causing Zombieism. Whatever a virus infects is called a host, the disease spreads and people exhibit specific symptoms. There is already a viral disease that is spread by biting, just like in Zombie movies. It’s called rabies. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is transmitted by animals, most commonly reaching us humans after we are bitten by an infected dog.

In fact, rabies might help us learn why in Zombie films, assuming we are dealing with a rabies-like virus, after a person is bitten, some people turn faster than others. If you took a bite in the foot, the virus has to travel quite a long way through your central nervous system until it reaches your brain. But if you were bitten in the neck, it has a much shorter distance to travel. So where you are bitten and how the virus travels through the body can impact how fast the disease would take hold.

However, at the moment, there is no virus that produces the four symptoms we require for our true Zombieism. But if any of you reading this are big virus fans, don’t be disheartened. Viruses mutate very quickly. Their genes are very unstable, and this leads to new strains of virus appearing all the time. So even though we don’t have a Zombie one yet, we can keep our fingers crossed that one will appear in the future.

If a virus is out of the question for the moment, what agent will bring us actual Zombieism in the future? Well, our research indicates that a prion disease is best contender right now.

Prions are forms of protein that are produced in all of our bodies. They do nothing harmful. In fact, us scientists are not 100 percent sure what role they play in the body. But we do know what happens when they go bad. Sometimes, rogue forms of these proteins enter our body and began converting our existing prions into versions of themselves. The result is damage to the body, particularly the brain, and certain symptoms that we define as a prion disease. Prion diseases are very rare, but it is likely you’ll have heard of Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). No? Perhaps you know its nickname, Human Mad Cow Disease. This disease was popular in the mid-1990s, when it is believed to have been transmitted from cows to humans when the humans ate infected cow meat. vCJD can take a long time to become noticeable after infection, possibly many years, and cannot be reliably diagnosed. Prion diseases cannot be spread by a human biting another human. If Zombieism was caused by such a disease, you wouldn’t catch it by being bit, as in Zombie films, but rather by ingesting an infected animal food source. Once a patient does show symptoms, they can include a staggered gait and involuntary movements (much like a Zombie walk), delusions, hallucinations, dementia (producing a Zombie-styled personality), poor muscle movement leading to dysarthria or the inability to move your mouth muscles in order to pronounce words (giving us a Zombie type moan). That gives us three out of the four real symptoms of Zombieism outlined in the previous article, leaving us one away from true Prion Zombieism.

Now we know what might cause Zombieism, and what that real life Zombie could be like, join us for the final article in the series when I’ll be examining how to prevent and hopefully cure Zombieism.

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep, is a Theoretical Zombiologist and Head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland UK. Find out more about his research at, and have your Zombie questions answered in his ZomBlog

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