Could Zombies Be Real?

By Daniel Bodden

With the end of the world supposedly near, some apocalyptic ideas have been spreading and causing all kinds of reactions. Zombies are often grouped with these “seemingly crazy” ideas, but some people are wondering if zombies may be more realistic than people think. Matt Mogk, the author of “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Zombies” and head of the Zombie Research Society based in Los Angeles, and other organizations are looking into whether or not zombies are something to worry about.

“I think they are both a human invention and a legitimate threat,” Mogk said. “There absolutely could be something like a zombie outbreak. It might not necessarily be like the movies. We’re never really gonna know until it actually happens. I think it’s totally possible.”

In May, an incident involving bath salts, a synthetic cocaine substitute, took place in Miami. Randy Eugene, 31, was shot dead by police while eating the flesh of another man and refusing to stop. He was suspected to be under the influence of bath salts. Other incidents involving drugs and face-eating have occurred in the past. Although these people weren’t actual zombies, the behavior exhibited was zombie-like.

“It seems like bath salts kind of do cause zombie-like behavior,” Mogk said. “The key though is that it’s not infectious. Bath salts may make the person crazy and attack other people, but it won’t make those people start attacking other people.”

Another indication of zombie-like behavior can be seen in the Toxoplasma gondii parasite which causes rats to lose their fear of cats and be eaten by them. Similar fatal diseases are chronic wasting disease, which affects deer, and mad cow disease, which affects cows. In both cases, the brain is eaten away and rotted. This causes the animals to act strangely, losing control over the ability to do normal things like walking.

In extremely rare cases, mad cow disease is spread to humans and called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It causes dementia, loss of coordination, and eventually death. Some think this disease or mutations of other illnesses could spread to humans and essentially make people into zombies.

“I think that zombies could exist through some type of virus,” senior John Malone, a zombie enthusiast, said. “There’s viruses like mad cow disease that could evolve to humans. Anything is possible. Bacteria and viruses change daily and that’s outside the range of man-made viruses that could be programmed to do anything.”

In New Guinea in the 1950s, an entire tribe caught a fatal disease called kuru that starts with symptoms of unsteady walking, lack of muscle and emotional control, tremors and slurred speech. The disease eventually caused death since it isn’t curable. Although the tribe was infected with the disease because of their cannibalistic traditions, the disease can also be sporadically developed or inherited. Some scientists think that a mutation or merging of diseases could cause the same results.

“I think the best theory would be a virus that activates within a certain period after death,” Biology Teacher Laura Montgomery said. “It would only cause some functions to continue and wouldn’t regenerate or replace tissues, but [the corpse] would have some kind of reawakened activity and could be contagious until it would cease to be after about a year.”

Another possible way for zombies to exist would be through stem cell and neurogenesis (growing brain cells) research. These have given hope to theories that brain cells could be grown, possibly regrown in dead people.

“I certainly think there’s potential there,” Mogk said. “There’s no telling what we’re going to be able to do in the future.”

When it comes to a zombie apocalypse, some think it’s a possibility. As of now, aspects of zombie-ism have been observed but not all in one person at one time.

“There are certain elements of zombie-ism, but they haven’t been put together totally,” Mogk said. “The most likely way is just a disease we already have that continues to adapt and mutate. I think it’s absolutely likely. I can’t say 100 percent but it’s totally possible.”

If an outbreak was to happen, Mogk thinks the problem would not only be getting zombies controlled, but to find the source of the infection, which could be difficult. Since an infected person could infect others even without actually being a zombie yet, there would be no way of knowing who was infected and who wasn’t.

“It could spread all over the world, especially if the incubation rate were days or weeks before people became zombies. People could be infected and not know it,” Mogk said. “They could get on planes and travel all over the world like in the movie ‘Contagion’. You’ll see outbreaks all over the world.”