As I was poking around for research on my paper topic that dealt with disease, a good number of search results returned information on the topic of zombies and whether there is any probability in their existence. Some of the searches are amusing and often satirical while others attempt to offer genuine information on whether flesh thirsting creatures could one day truly terrorize our nation. I love horror movies because I love the adrenaline rush and zombies movies in my mind are the most terrifying – any disease that has the ability to wipe out humans, such as that in Outbreak, is so much more horrific that any slasher film. Movies, such as 28 Days Later and I Am Legend are two of the most plausible portrayals of a “zombie outbreak” because they revolve around the spread of a simple disease, such as rabies, and through simple attacks it spreads across the entire nation. The question, then, is what type of virus will be capable of turning humans into lifeless, but aggressive, creatures?
I came across a National Geographic Article centered around a program that aired on their channel called “The Truth Behind Zombies.” Virologists in the show all confirmed that rabies, the viral disease that affects the central nervous system and drive people to violent madness, if combined with a flu virus that could spread quickly in the air is the perfect combination for a “zombie apocalypse.” Rabies itself takes anywhere from 10 days to a year to incubate the body but after that, it can be fatal within a week if left untreated. If the genetic code of rabies was mutated in some way, in other words, mutated, its incubation time could be dramatically reduced to where it incubates and kills extremely quickly, with in an hour or so. To become a “rage virus,” like in 28 Days Later, it would have to become airborne. It would have to “borrow” traits from other viruses, like influenza, by swapping pieces of genetic code.
However, two unrelated viruses such as rabies and flu cannot simply hybridize. Viruses do not just share genetic information; they can only swap parts that belong to viruses in the same family. While it would technically be possible for two viruses to share genetic information using today’s advanced genetic-engineering techniques, it would be extremely difficult. If one day this is completely possible, there would be no restrictions to also adding in genetic information from a measles or ebola virus so that the symptoms and aggression are much worse. At the moment, technology does not allow this to occur and any creation of this virus would be rendered dead. However, give another half a century and I personally believe that scientists will literally be able to create any disease they desire and we might have a 28 Days Later scenario on our hands. However, as demonstrated in I Am Legend, modern advancements in virology could be used to fight diseases. In the film, rabies is used to combat cancer but because of a mutation it turns humanity in to aggressive, rabid creatures. We can only hope that future scientific advancements in the medical world will be used to further the well being of humans and not lead to our destruction as evidenced in stereotypical zombie films.