The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, 28 days, the list of shows about a zombie apocalypse seems to be endless.
If you’re a fan of any of the “zombie” focused shows that have become popular in the last decade or so, you may have found yourself wondering a zombie apocalypse is possible.
Part of the fun of watching these fictional shows is the knowledge that something like that isn’t very likely in the real world.
Or is it? Are we simply fooling ourselves into thinking that we are safe from catatonic walking bodies, bent on attacking other humans?
Could something similar to a “zombie apocalypse” really happen in the future? What kinds of event or events might bring about this type of chaos?
Table of Contents
Could Zombies Actually be Real?
No, a zombie apocalypse won’t happen the way pictured in movies. However, there is biological precedent for zombie-like states occurring among other life forms. A zombie is also a metaphor for the unprepared, begging for or stealing for supplies when SHTF.
Several natural or man-made causes may result in similar states being inflicted on humans at some point.
The zombie craze in media was all the rage a few years back, and remains a perennially popular topic in media across many formats.
You can’t go to the bookstore, turn on the TV, buy a movie ticket, or fire up a video game without running across a story about protagonists trying differently to survive and prevail in the face of a horde of seemingly unstoppable, corpse-like creatures.
How lucky we are, then, that zombies are entirely the stuff of fiction. Made up, not real, the denizens of our nightmares and our stories alone…
Or are they?
The Biological Precedent for Zombies
As it turns out, what we popularly refer to as zombies have an entirely real and even more terrifying basis in biological reality. Not theoretical, not speculation. Reality, now, here, today on planet Earth.
They might not be reanimated corpses in the strictest definition of the word zombie, and inanimate body brought back to life by unutterable sorcery or some other mystical power, but…
Modern zombies may very well be living humans that have been stripped of their willpower, higher brain functions, and basic humanity might be something will have to deal with in the future.
This transformation might be brought on by any number of means, means we will speculate about below. It could be the result of scientific experimentation or mankind’s quest for knowledge exceeded our grasp.
It could be some unknown or maladapted microorganism in the form of a virus or fungus that perpetuates its own existence by hijacking the brains and bodies of so-called higher life forms.
It might even be some sort of technological weapon or asset run amok, either a bio weapon or microscopic, robotic swarm.
I say to you now with no glib smirk or knowing wink that zombies might be entirely real, and a genuine zombie outbreak could be much closer than you think.
We will look at the potential causes of a real life zombie outbreak below and then explore theoretical options for preparing against and dealing with it and the remainder of this article.
Mass Illness and Disease Could Cause a Zombie Apocalypse
There are in fact some illnesses that can actually alter the actions and movements of its host. A behavior altering virus or illness is one that impacts the nervous system causing symptoms such as involuntary muscle spasms, anxiety, paralysis, pupil dilation, confusion, hallucinations, and more.
An infection from something such as rabies could also include increased rage and aggression.
We’ve all seen depictions of a rabid animal and we already know rabies can wreak havoc on the human body which is why victims of an animal bite must subject themselves to rabies shots, to prevent the possibility of infection.
But what if a mass outbreak of rabies in humans occurred? If health officials were unable to round up victims quickly enough to get them the shots and prevent infection, it could spread quickly. It just might look like a zombie apocalypse if enough humans fell victim to the rabies infection.
Another disease that could cause a sort of zombies is Mad Cow disease. We already know Mad Cow disease can infect humans. Seriously, it can happen. Google Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Symptoms include poor coordination , impaired movement (falling and stumbling), muscle twitching, delirium, and seizures.
Sure sounds like a zombie to me. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is pretty rare as far as we know and people wouldn’t be dead and revived like movie zombies, but the possibility of this disease morphing and being spread through biting is most likely.
Scientific Manipulation Could Trigger a Zombie Apocalypse
Scientific manipulation such as one study done on mice which focused on the amygdala, the section of the brain responsible for emotional and fear responses in addition to motor controls for predatory capturing and killing.
Boston University neuropathologist, Peter Cummings, explored this possibility and Kluver-Bucy syndrome, in his book Neuropathology of Zombies. Kluver-Bucy syndrome causes humans to do a wide range of strange things and can trigger violence even while the victim is in a catatonic state.
Though most scientists have good intentions, we all know there are those few scientists out there who either inadvertently or in some cases, intentionally, can take scientific manipulation too far. So scientific manipulation could in fact trigger something like a zombie apocalypse.
Can an Apocalypse Happen Due to Parasitic Infection?
Behavior altering parasites, like the thorny-headed worm or lancet liver fluke, are another way that a zombie apocalypse could really happen.
These are parasites that take over the host body and compel it to do something that inevitably helps the parasite to continue its own lifecycle.
Another parasite, the hairworm, for example can infect a grasshopper and compel it to jump into water, where the grasshopper dies, but the parasite is able to continue its lifecycle.
Although most of these parasites cannot infect humans, there is one that can, Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite is typically found in small birds and rats, and has been known to alter animal behavior.
Toxoplasma gondii causes its host to run toward predators rather than run away from them. So, an infected rat, for example, would run to a cat and be eaten by it, which lets the parasite continue its lifecycle in the feces of the cat.
Humans can be infected by this parasite although it’s currently unclear as to what the impact is on humans.
Can a Zombie Apocalypse Happen Due to Neurotoxins?
Believe it or not, this one is something that is the most likely, simply because it has already happened in places like Haiti, one of the origins for “zombie” as a description anyhow. Victims of certain neurotoxins, such as from the Japanese blowfish, suffer from inhibited bodily processes.
The poison from these neurotoxins can make it seem like someone is actually dead. Victims of this neurotoxin can be brought back using drugs or chemicals like alkaloids or datura stramonium.
But, the kicker is, the victim is left with no memory. They can still do regular human things, like sleep, eat, shuffle around, or moan, but they are basically the definition of “zombies”.
There was at least one actual case where a native Haitian was believed dead and was buried in 1962. Eighteen years after he was buried, he was found wandering the village.
Apparently, village voodoo priests were routinely using natural chemicals to turn people into zombies so they had laborers for the sugar plantations.
The only comfort in this possible cause for a zombie apocalypse is that zombies resulting from neurotoxins would not be interested in eating other humans or attacking them. At least we hope not.
Neurogenesis Could Lead to a Zombie Apocalypse
You’ve certainly heard about stem cell research, something scientists and medical professionals have been doing for quite some time now. Sure they are focused on using stem cells to regenerate vital organs like kidneys, liver, or the human heart.
But stem cells could also be used to regenerate dead brain tissue. It’s been used on coma patients to get them to wake up and walk again.
But the current problem with reanimation is that the regenerated brain dies from the outside in. So the human part, the cortex, dies first. This leaves just the brainstem which keeps your bodily functions active.
When you combine neurogenesis with suspended animation of dead bodies while awaiting future medical breakthroughs, you can see where a zombie apocalypse could actually occur.
Could Nanobots Cause a Zombie Apocalypse?
Progress is a pretty wonderous thing normally. In fact, self-replicating nanobots are predicted to one day be used for a host of medical purposes, including monitoring your health from within, repairing damaged bones, and even fighting infection.
But when it comes to something like nanotechnology, some of the possibilities are actually frightening. Nano-cyborgs, created by scientists, are predicted to be used within ten short years, to replace damaged neural connections in your brain.
Keep in mind, cyborgs can continue operating even after the host dies. This means the potential is there for nanobots to be creating neural pathways in your brain, to keep your body moving, even after you die.
As if that’s not scary enough, nanobots are designed to self-replicate which means they are basically programmed to find a new host prior to their current one decaying.
This means the nanobots, now in control of the host body, could cause it to bite a new host, which they would then take over and so on.
Could Fungal Subjugation Cause the Zombie Apocalypse
Believe It or not, the source of a zombie outbreak might not be viral in nature, but fungal. There are many hundreds of species of endoparasitic fungi on earth, many of them in the cordyceps genus.
Fungi of this nature invade the body of a host organism and replace various tissues, including nervous system tissue, with its own structures as part of its reproductive process.
Affecting many other species of Life on earth, namely ants and wasps, infected hosts are driven to a variety of counterintuitive and often destructive behaviors.
Ants for instance are made to climb trees as high as they can before they finally succumb to the fungus as it completes its life cycle, growing and releasing spores that spread far and wide on the wind to further its life cycle.
Scientific literature on the subject is nothing short of a harrowing and fascinating and equal measure, and I define anyone to not feel pity for the poor insects and arthropods infected by this insidious and parasitic fungi.
We already know that other species of fungi can infect mammalian life, although with far less grisly and terrifying ends.
How much longer might it be before a species of cordyceps or other fungi attains the missing Link of parasitizing mammalian life, including humans?
If you want a truly horrifying look at this speculative scenario, fictional media can provide you all you want.
The last of us series of video games shows us a brutal and apocalyptic fungal zombie scenario in shocking detail and clarity. Let us all hope that this game remains as such, and not a prophetic warning of dire times to come.
Could Chemical or Biological Weapons Result in a Zombie Outbreak?
Another plausible and extremely horrifying scenario that might result in a zombie outbreak is that of an engineered bio weapon deployment.
Be it a legitimate biological weapon, some chemical nightmare or a combination thereof, this event is probably far more realistic and more terrifying than the schlocky B movie Fare we are used to.
Chances are there won’t be any neon green cloud of gas that instantly turns people into pale skinned ghouls.
What is far more likely is that via a specialized and weaponized microorganism or exposure to a chemical substance victims will be pushed into a massively amplified fight or flight state.
Once this is done, and agitation is at a fever pitch, the weapon could then damage or even sever connections to certain parts of the brain, in essence marooning a person in a highly excited and dangerously dissociated mental state.
It takes a little imagination to see how such a chain of events would quickly snowball out of control, particularly in the case of a biological precursor which would remain in the body and then be spread from victim to victim.
As a weapon of war, this is arguably the ultimate terror weapon and would be a wonderful way to soften up a foe prior to a major invasion or just to push them over the brink all on their own.
When you stop to consider how many Doomsday weapons, forbidden devices and previously Sci-Fi technologies that major powers are sitting on, it is almost hard to believe that somebody, somewhere lacks this type of weapon system today.
All we can hope is that that is not true and that cooler heads will prevail and never, ever deploy such a bio weapon.
Could Modern Politics Give Rise to Zombies?
A bit tongue in cheek perhaps, but I maintain that we are already living through a sort of zombie apocalypse.
It seems there exists a certain category of person that believes every lie, every bit of propaganda and every, single outlandish assertion told to them by the right so-called experts.
So long as they believe they are following the science or on the right side of history, these people will do anything to their neighbors and fellow citizens and feel entirely, smugly self-righteous while they do it.
It might be political. It might be the next great safety scare. It could be war or rumors of War.
Whatever it is, people in this category represent a special sort of useful idiot for elites who love nothing better than to pit humanity against itself in droves.
They are worse than fictional zombies because they still have all of their faculties, but their faculties have been suborned towards someone else’s purpose.
These ideologically possessed shock troops pose an existential threat towards the vast swath of civilization that just wants to be left alone to live in peace.
How we deal with these zombies has yet to be uncovered because there is no logic, rhetoric, explanation or heartfelt plea that seems to penetrate the Stony carapace of branded propaganda that plates their hide.
There isn’t a pill you can give them, a shot to inject them with or any other countermeasure that seems to be effective.
Even an ice cold bucket of reality staring him in the face doesn’t even make them flinch. Once they get the bug, they are a goner!
I don’t know if mankind can survive this plague, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!
Consider the zombie uprising as a survival metaphor
Now, we might soon be dealing with actual zombies, or we might not.
But whether you believe the assertions and theoretical explanations above using a zombie outbreak or bona fide zombie apocalypse as a sort of survival metaphor is a highly instructive exercise for Preppers.
Is difficult to imagine any event that will be more calamitous and more chaotic than a zombie outbreak. For that reason, it serves as a kind of total systems test for your survival plan.
Every element, every factor of your planning, preparation and emergent response will be put to a severe test in the event of an outbreak.
Even learning how to theoretically protect yourself from a small scale outbreak through good prevention protocols and establishment of an emergency plan is it one heck of a mental exercise.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m overstating the point?
You might want to think again, because no less prestigious and professional organization than the United States center for disease control published their own guidelines on their official website for responding to, dealing with and combating a zombie outbreak.
Yes, of course the CDC guidelines were a tongue-in-cheek campaign designed to get people on board with being generally prepared for disaster. It was also launched at the very height of zombie popularity in Media. Even so, the proof was positive.
Planning around a possible zombie outbreak, be it a rogue nanological investigation, man-made bio weapon or evolved fungal parasite is a great way to make sure you have all of your bases covered for every kind of disaster. We will consider the implications and formulate our own plan below.
Analyzing the Threat
Compared to natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and the like, a zombie outbreak represents an entirely new category of threat.
Whether it spawns from a natural or man-made source, the direct threat to life and limb from a zombie outbreak is an exponentially growing threat, and unlike a weather event or accident, is one that can sort of think and respond to stimuli.
A tornado doesn’t care if you scream your head off, cry and beg or fall asleep. If a tornado comes through it might get you or it might not. You can react to a tornado but it won’t react back.
It simply is, and is constrained and directed by completely uncaring and aloof forces of nature. Zombies, however, are different.
Driven by simple rage, tiny nanobots following a gestalt program, haywire biological circuitry in the human brain or the parasites alien but understandable imperative to reproduce, zombies can perceive you or suspect your presence from stimuli.
Perhaps from sight and sound. Maybe by smell. Maybe they can even sense your body heat. Whatever the case, once a zombie detects you it is now directing its efforts against you.
Maybe our particular zombies will lash out at anything else moving. Maybe they will only lash out at uninfected life.
Zombies created from a parasitic organism or subjugation by nanobots or other machines will likely work in an eerie and coordinated sort of hive mind. In any case, this is bad, bad news for you.
Maybe you’re fortifications will hold up temporarily but fall under sustained assault from thinking, potentially adapting adversaries. You can run, and maybe the zombies are easy to outrun, but perhaps you’ll get tired while they do not. You’ll have to close your eyes and sleep eventually but they won’t have to.
Driven by a legitimate need to feed or just the illogical urge to do violence, once they get their hands on you, that’s it.
You’ll be killed, and worse than dying you might wind up one of them.
Before we can properly prepare against this zombie outbreak, and pending infection, we must know how the infection spreads. Zombie preparedness is not like typical pandemic preparedness!
For the more assumptions about how the zombie condition spreads could approve fatal if you are wrong.
First things first, if you can positively identify from a trustworthy source the source of the infection this will likely inform how you prepare against it. Is it some sort of natural viral or fungal organism?
If it is fungal, spores are probably spread on the air as with any other fungus, and this will likely only take place after a certain point in the fungal life cycle.
If you are dealing with a viral zombie outbreak, a zombie bite, scratch or any other injury exposed to necrotic tissue will probably seal your fate.
More esoteric causes of zombification must not be ruled out as omnipotent or unassailable. If infection is caused by nanobots you probably need them to worry about being infected from physical injury, even a bite.
Nanobots are also so small that they could be carried on air currents, but you could use that against them.
Air curtains and dust proof facilities will probably prove a ready defense against them although strict decontamination protocols for clothing and skin must still be followed.
If the zombie outbreak is the result of a bacterial infection, bioweapon or some other similar cause there are likely medications and other countermeasures that could prove effective if administered prior to a certain point of progression.
The point is, keep your eyes open and your brain running during a zombie outbreak. If you can understand the root cause of the event you can take steps against it, and time spent thinking clearly is never a wasted.
Your Zombie Apocalypse Survival Kit
Now with some of these, wondering whether a zombie apocalypse can really happen might be a bit of an exaggeration or a stretch.
Those of us who prep know that the more likely type of “zombie” apocalypse will be from hordes of desperate people who didn’t take time to prepare for an economic collapse or some other type of SHTF event.
These people will be so desperate for food, water, and other supplies that they won’t be rational.
Your only choice if confronted with groups of these desperate people will be to be prepared to fight back or to flee with whatever supplies you can carry.
No matter the cause of the zombie outbreak, there are certain supplies you’ll need to weather the event. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it will give you a good starting point.
Food and water
You’ll need enough non-perishable food and clean water to last you at least a week and preferably longer.
Canned goods, dried fruits and nuts, and other shelf-stable items are good options. Make sure to rotate your supplies regularly so they don’t go bad.
A well-stocked first aid kit is essential. Bandages, antiseptic, pain medication, and basic medical supplies should be included.
You’ll need supplies for trauma care, sure, but don’t neglect basic boo-boos as they can prove ready vectors for infection. Superglue works wonderfully to give cuts and punctures an impermeable seal.
Weapons and ammunition
In the event of a zombie outbreak, it’s likely that law and order will break down. Suffice it to say the police are not coming to save you! You’ll need to be able to defend yourself and your loved ones.
Choose weapons that you’re comfortable using and make sure you have plenty of ammunition. A sturdy melee weapon is mandatory, too.
Zombies are likely still attracted to noise and movement, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from their attention. Wear clothing in muted colors and avoid making too much noise. Silence you gear, and also consider carrying a weapon with a silencer, if available.
– Shelter: If zombies are roaming the streets, it’s best to stay indoors as much as possible. Make sure you have adequate shelter against the elements and enough supplies to last for an extended period of time. Anything you use for outdoor shelter should not trap you in place.
Clothing and bedding
In addition to protection from the elements, you’ll need clothing and bedding that can keep you warm and comfortable. Make sure to pack plenty of socks, hats, and gloves, as well as an adequate supply of blankets and sleeping bags.
Sanitation / Hygiene supplies
Zombies can spread disease, so it’s important to maintain good hygiene during a zombie outbreak.
Pack soap, toothpaste, bleach, trash bags and other sanitation supplies to help you stay clean and battle the germs that might be responsible for this mess in the first place.
In the event of an outbreak, it’s important to be able to communicate with loved ones who may be far away. Make sure you have a working phone and a supply of batteries, as well as a radio or other means of communication.
If you need to evacuate, you’ll need a way to get around. Make sure you have a working vehicle with a full tank of gas.
Smaller vehicles like motorcycles and ATV’s might have distinct advantages in maneuverability if not protection. A bicycle will be a quiet and dependable mode of transit if you have the endurance.
In the event of a zombie outbreak, it’s likely that the power will go out and traditional forms of currency will no longer be valid.
Make sure you have a stash of cash on hand in case of emergency. Don’t think that everyone will suddenly think it useless!
That will take some time, and plenty of people will be swayed to part with goods or provide services for cold, hard cash.
Personal Docs Package
Make sure to have all your important documents in one place.
This should include copies of your driver’s license, passport, social security card, and any other vital documents. If you have to leave your home in a hurry, you’ll need these to prove your identity and get help from authorities.
These could be especially vital when sentries start filtering refugees based on city of origin. If Chicago is the epicenter of the outbreak, being able to prove you are from New York City will be a boon!
There are other items that might come in handy during a zombie outbreak. Consider packing things like duct tape, rope, a tool kit, and a map of your area.
Don’t forget to nab any special items or meds that family members or yourself might need.
Survive the Shambling Nightmare
While it’s impossible to predict every possible scenario, preparing for a zombie apocalypse will give you the best chance at survival. By following the tips above, you can make sure that you and your loved ones are ready for anything.
Are you prepared for a potential zombie apocalypse regardless of how it comes about? What plans are you making or have you made to get prepared?
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Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.
1 thought on “Can a Zombie Apocalypse Really Happen?”
I enjoyed the first several seasons of “The Walking Dead” because it focused on how people came together to deal with an Apocalyptic-scale event. (The series has become long in the tooth now, with too many established characters disappearing, and with plot lines being used that are less than satisfying.) I consider the idea of Zombies as they are depicted on the series to be absurd, but, hey, I accept dragons in GOT, too, so the suspension of disbelief is required.
The problem with “The Walking Dead” is that Zombies never seem to decompose enough not to be threats, even after, what?, eight years? And why does their awful odor not reveal their presence? Are the normal people suffering from massive sinus congestion?
Movies like “28 Days Later” appear to be more realistic regarding the potential outbreak of Zombie-like diseases. The “Zombies” in “28 Days Later” are not dead. They are merely infected, they appear to be rabid, and they can run fast. I have read that rabies is the most deadly disease in the world. Once a symptom develops, it is too late to administer medical treatment. I also read that if rabies ever mutated and became airborne, it would mean the end of civilization because people would have to maintain serious distances from each other in order to avoid infection.
If that situation ever occurred, we would believe that the characters on “The Walking Dead” got off easy.