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We're not remotely ready for a zombie apocalypse, prof says

Technically Incorrect: A Kent State professor calls for research and funding to prevent the spread of zombie infections. Naturally, she's making a real-world point.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


zombiesbycorbiscrop.jpg

Can their viruses be contained?

Corbis

I tend to be quite sanguine about the zombie threat.

Wandering the streets every day, I see them. I believe their "zombieness" is only caused by what they currently see on this planet. Some, though, are more concerned.

If you're looking for a piece of edifying Christmas reading, take a glance at "Zombie infections: epidemiology, treatment, and prevention." This contemplative work was published in the British Medical Journal on Monday.

Its author, Kent State University associate professor Tara Smith, worries that we're not ready for all the viruses coming our way.

Smith has a way with words. For example, her opening sentence: "Zombies -- also known as walkers, Zed, Zs, biters, geeks, stiffs, roamers, Zeke, ghouls, rotters, Zoms, and runners -- have become a dominant part of the medical landscape."

Geeks are zombies. So much is explained in those three words.

Smith's article looks at how the fictional Solanum virus, from movies such as "28 Days Later," spreads. She writes that "prevention and treatment are largely unexplored" because of the "rapid onset of zombie outbreaks and their society destroying characteristics."

What are the usual remedies in movies?

"Severing the bitten area from the body has proved successful in some cases, but is not universally preventative," she writes. "It is sometimes impossible owing to bite location or the speed of viral incubation."

Smith explained to me that her work was published in the BMJ because "zombie outbreaks are a global issue" and the journal allows for "humorous and more light-hearted articles in its Christmas edition." Mainly the latter, she added.

Her current field of study is the evolution and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It's no wonder that zombies are a fine example. "I love zombie movies, books, TV shows," she said. "I just caught up on the last compendium of 'Walking Dead' comics and am anxiously waiting on the TV show to resume in February."

Smith's paper is enjoyable, but her purpose is serious. Having analyzed the zombie viruses we have lived through in movies, she writes that the international community needs a lot more cooperation and funding to prepare for the potential of a devastating disease in real life.

She told me that Ebola simply isn't the worst of it.

"Risk from infectious diseases is difficult to communicate, because it's not static, and it's not equal for each infectious agent," she said. "Ebola is scary because it's been hyped in works like 'The Hot Zone,' but in reality, it's not that easy to spread, and when it causes death, it's not as dramatic as it's portrayed in that book and in other media."

She contrasted this with influenza, which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which kills 23,000 Americans a year.

Smith isn't the only one to use fictional zombies to encourage real safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued prepardeness suggestions for a zombie apocalypse. These include making sure you have enough emergency supplies and then planning an evacuation route.

Smith's article takes the zombie analogy to its ultimate conclusion.

"We need a frank discussion of the ethical and potential criminal problems associated with dealing with zombies," she writes. "Will people be prosecuted for killing a zombie or a person who has been bitten but has not yet 'turned'? Is mass quarantine of those who have been exposed to a zombie but not bitten legal? How would it be achieved?"

Her conclusions aren't too cheery. Either governments will have to accept that the living dead are alive and decide what place they should have in society, she writes, or there will be a human-zombie war.

Now, why weren't the Republican candidates asked their views on this subject during Tuesday's CNN debate?