Could The Walking Dead Really Happen?

On October 31st 2010, AMC launched the hit zombie TV series, The Walking Dead Today, an average audience of 14

4 million watch Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors take on the sinister ‘walkers’ The Walking Dead may be fiction – however the ‘Zombie Research Society’ points to the existence of contemporary diseases that could cause the very same disaster In The Walking Dead, the walkers are reanimated corpses of humans who have died since the outbreak began Like zombies, they have a distinctive ambling gait, rotten appearance, limited cognitive function and appetite for human flesh Walkers outnumber the survivors 5000 to one

And as undead research has proven, the idea of a population overcome with Walker qualities is more plausible than we would like to believe… The ‘Zombie Research Society’ – an organisation of authors and academics – claims that the most likely threat of a Walking Dead scenario is from viruses Dr Ben Neuman, professor of virology at the University of Reading, argues that it’s only a matter of time before a virus mutates into a zombie-generating contagion All it would take is the creation of a virus that targets specific neurons and humans’ personalities and brain functions could be completely modified For example, vicious viral attacks on the Amygdala – the brain’s emotion centre – could occur without necessarily killing or immobilising a body outright A walker without the ability to recognise their loved ones or feel impulses other than hunger is, worryingly, not a total impossibility

And the bloodthirsty behaviour of rabid canines has caused a lot of fear about the possibility of violence-inducing pathogens in humans Transmitted by bites from infected animals, rabies has been known to cause vast mental impairment, aggressive behaviour and delusions Luckily, human-to-human transmission is uncommon, but it is theoretically possible that the disease could be passed on through a zombie bite Mad Cow Disease also results in characteristics reminiscent of the living dead Its symptoms include speech impairment, reduced coordination, changes in mobility and severe personality transformations

Although it’s currently caused by the consumption of contaminated meat, a variation that allowed the disease to pass between humans could spell catastrophe Moreover, an even scarier possibility is that these fateful mutations could occur deliberately Terrorist groups could use genetic engineering to modify existing viruses for use as bioweapons against entire populations In 2014, researchers from Wageningen University successfully developed the first artificial virus If this technology were to fall into the wrong hands, a zombie apocalypse virus could be administered on a devastating scale

And it’s not just viruses that could cause a zombie apocalypse There are a number of harmful toxins that have been known to generate zombie-like symptoms Desomorphine, for example, is a highly addictive sedative that has gained a reputation as a flesh-eating zombie drug Used by 11 million people in Russia alone, the substance causes severe damage to skin tissue, meaning addicts often resemble the pale, decaying figures we associate with the un-dead of our TV screens

And in Colombia, authorities are reporting an increase in the use of scopolamine, which makes victims totally compliant In 2012, criminals dosed over 1,200 people with the drug, and made them commit crimes ranging from burglary to grievous bodily harm In many cases, the victim lost all sense of identity or purpose and had no recollection of events – even once the effects of the drugs wore off Thankfully, the zombification effects of these drugs are limited to the users alone and cannot transfer from human to human However, the threat of substances such as these is that they could also be manipulated for use as terrorist weapons, by adding them to water or food supplies So, if we really are only a random mutation away from brain-destroying pathogens or a drug-induced state, then how long would it take to reach pandemic levels? In The Walking Dead, lead character Rick is in a coma for approximately 3 months, although some fans speculate less

During this time, his apparently safe world becomes overcome by hoards of the undead, leaving survivors few and far between Dr Neuman argues that a zombie condition transmitted by direct contact, such as bites, would spread at a much slower rate than this Containment would be fairly manageable, through the use of quarantine centres for early victims Frighteningly, water or airborne viruses could be much more dangerous Dr Neuman estimates that such a pathogen could spread around the world within a terrifying six months

Considering that the inhabitants of The Walking Dead universe were probably infected in this way, the show’s timescale is surprisingly close to how real events could unfold"

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