The Zombies Are Coming!

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Zombies are all the rage these days, what with the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; the pending release of Zombieland;and news that Max Brook’s sci-fi classic, World War Z, is bound for the silver screen. But maybe it’s time to call a halt to this never-ending battle with the Undead. Can’t humans and zombies learn to get along and co-exist in harmony? According to a new paper by a group of Canadian epidemiologists — no way, no how.

The researchers all hail from the University of Ottawa, and work at modeling the spread of infectious disease. They have adapted one particular model to the spread of a fictitious zombie infection. People fall into three basic categories: Susceptibles (S), those who are not infected; Zombies (Z); and removed (R), susceptibles who have died of other causes.

Zombies whose heads are cut off or brains destroyed can be killed. Susceptibles can become zombies if they are bitten by one, but zombies can also be created by resurrecting the Removed — those who are already dead. It doesn’t take a mathematical wizard to figure out that if there is only one means of reducing the hordes of zombies — killing them — and two ways of creating new zombies, sooner or later we will all be zombies. There is no chance of maintaining what’s known as an “endemic state” — one of peaceful coexistence.

Quarantining the few healthy humans could help — the standard “hole up in a basement somewhere and hope the zombie hordes don’t find you” approach employed in every zombie horror flick ever made. We’ve seen how effective thatstrategy can be.

The Ottawa researchers suggest that our only hope is an “impulsive eradication” scheme. Think an armed and dangerous Woody Harrelson in Zombieland, or the two schlubs who take on a zombie horde in Simon Pegg’s Sean of the Dead. A series of fierce, concentrated attacks could effectively cull the number of zombies over time so that the “outbreak” would finally die out.

There is an interesting critique of this paper over at Confounding Blog that provides a bit more detail. The rest of us should take the Canadian researchers’ final conclusion to heart: “The most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often. As seen in the movies, it is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble.”

We say, bring it on!

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.