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Could a Zombie Apocalypse Really Happen?

Updated on February 25, 2020
Zombies from the Walking Dead
Zombies from the Walking Dead

What is a Zombie?

When you think of a zombie what do you see? A shuffling corps walking toward you groaning and wanting to eat your brain? The basic definition of Hollywood Zombies is “A reanimated corpse that has been turned into a creature capable of movement but not rational thought. One who feeds on human flesh.” Some characteristics of zombies are of being un-dead, shuffling or shambling walk or exceedingly quick and agile, extremely aggressive but also confused and having rotting or decaying flesh.

So, is it possible that these zombies could someday walk the Earth and wipe out humanity? No. There is no real way to reanimate a corps that could cause these types of zombies, but there are other real diseases and viruses that cause a lot of zombie-like symptoms. Most of these, if not all, cause death eventually and most aren’t highly contagious but all it takes is a natural evolution of the viruses or a careless scientist or organization to mutate one of these viruses to create havoc.

Zombies have been a popular topic for many years and have inspired hundreds of movies, TV shows, games and even community events such as the “Zombie Walk” that help raise money for good causes. There are also a large number of zombie variations depending on different movies and even different regions of the world. The term Zombie was derived from an African word ‘ Nzambi’ meaning God or The Grand Serpent. In Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, zombies were said to be corps raised by voodoo or witchcraft. In Haiti, an island in the Caribbean, the term zombie was used to describe the plight of human slaves in the 1700’s. They would refer to the starving slaves as looking like emaciated zombies. In old Norse mythology, zombies were known as ‘Draugrs’ and they too were magically brought back by witchcraft.

In modern-day, Hollywood style zombies either in movies or video games, are divided into groups such as walkers, crawlers, hunters, boomers and witch’s. They have different names for the different types of zombies they are, quick, slow, missing limbs, or just from the different creators.

The following are a few viruses and diseases that have most zombie-like symptoms but it is by no means a full list. If you choose to do research on these viruses or look up more, please be cautious! Some of the photos you will find are very graphic.


Rabies is the deadliest virus known to man even though it is extremely rare to contract it. Just 23 cases of rabies in humans were reported in the US between 2008 to 2017 but once someone is infected with rabies, it’s almost always fatal. Rabies is transmitted when an infected animal bites a person and the virus is transferred by the saliva into the wound. The animals that are most likely to carry rabies are foxes, bats, raccoons, coyotes, wild or stray dogs, and skunks though many other mammals can carry this virus.

Once a person is bitten and had contracted the rabies virus, they will start to show symptoms around 10 days and even up to a year. These symptoms can include, fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, agitation, aggression, anxiety, hallucinations, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing that can lead to hydrophobia, partial paralyzes, insomnia, excessive salivation and, eventually inflammation in the brain.

While people have survived contacting the rabies virus, the mortality rate is greater than 95%. Once a person has rabies, they will fall into a coma and die within 1 to 3 weeks of the infection. The zombie aspects of this virus are vomiting, agitation, aggression, confusion and, excessive salivation.

The best way to prevent getting rabies is to get the vaccine and to avoid wild animals or animals who seem overly aggressive.


Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping Sickness, or African Trypanosomiasis, is contracted by the Tsetse fly. This fly will bite humans and animals to drink their blood and is often found in swarms around cattle and farmland. In Africa, they report around 1,000 new cases per year. This disease has two stages and two different strains that affect separate areas in Africa. Both strains of this disease share the same symptoms during the first stage. The first stage consists of fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and, inflammation of the lymph nodes and spleen. These areas will get soft, swollen and tender to touch.

Strain one, T. brucei rhodesiense, sees stage two within several weeks. The symptoms of stage two effect the brain and spinal cord and consist of personality changes, sleep disturbances, becoming sleepy or fatigued when standing or when eating, mental dullness, weary or shuffled gate when walking, tremors or spasms, profound lethargy, and, death.

Strain two, T. brucei gambiense, seeing stage two occurring one to two years after the initial infection. The symptoms are the same it’s just taken a longer time to incubate in the infected person.

Strain one, ‘rhodesinense’ is commonly found in the highlands of central-east and South Africa while the second strain, ‘gambiense’ is found from the West Coast of Africa to the East African Lakes and around the southern side of the Congo river.

The zombie-like symptoms of this disease are the shuffling gate, mental dullness, tremors or spasms and, becoming aggressive with personality changes. This disease is treatable but only if it’s caught early on.



Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is a disease that has been around for thousands of years and has been seen all over the world. While it is a highly infectious disease it’s not highly contagious. This means the infections spread quickly but it’s not easy to contract the disease. In the US there is a reported 100 new cases each year and it mostly affects children. You may contract this disease if you have constant or continuous contact with an infected person or by nose or mouth fluids. It takes around 3 to 5 years for the disease to incubate before you will start to see symptoms appear.

Symptoms for this disease can be severe skin sores and lacerations, nerve damage mostly in the arms and legs but also around the body, the loss of fingers and toes, numbness, red patches, pale coloring, weight loss, hair loss, eye damage and, weakness in hands and feet.

While this disease is treatable and there is a cure, it needs to be administered early on or it can be lethal if not caught early or if not treated.

The zombie-like symptoms of this disease are the sores and decaying flesh and the body parts that eventually fall off along with the pale coloring and nerve damage. This disease fits the zombie-like appearance aspect more than the actions.

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Movies with the most plausible zombies

Most Hollywood movies that portray zombies show them as reanimated corpse’s that have risen and begin to attack the living to eat their flesh or brains. Most movies show zombies as them being once dead but a few movies have shown more realistic events. I’ll be listing 3 movies that show more plausible ways zombies could happen without them being raised from the dead. A warning for the section ahead, If you haven’t seen these movies, there will be spoilers! Though all the movies I’m mentioning were made between 2002 and 2008.

28 Days Later was made in 2002 and the basis for the zombie’s is called the Rage Virus. What I took away from this was that the Rage Virus was created to find a cure for it. It felt to me that this Rage Virus was supposed to be similar to the Rabies Virus and thus made this movie feel like a more plausible event.

The infected in this movie are overly aggressive, vomit blood and attack nearby people. This virus is fueled by rage and not a desire to feed, or from hunger so these zombies would die out from starvation relatively quickly. There also appears to be no real incubation period for the virus to take hold, it seems to be almost instant and that takes away from the plausibility of this movie. The virus spreads from what appeared to be blood and bodily fluid contact as one individual was infected with a simple drop of blood into his eye. It was also mentioned to be an air-born virus thus causing it to become more contagious.

I Am Legend was made in 2008 and the zombies in this movie were created by a faulty measles vaccine that was said to be a cure for cancer. A lot of people in the zombie community often refer to these creatures as more vampire than zombie but for the sake of this article, they will be zombies.

These zombies have developed a sensitivity to sunlight and must hide in the dark to avoid being burned by the sun. They have become stronger and faster than humans and this disease affects other animals as well as humans.

The plausibility for this movie is in the way these zombies had been accidentally created. Scientists are working on cures every day and all it would take is one careless organization to want to push human trials on a cure that isn’t ready yet to have something similar to this happen. Maybe not with humans being allergic to sunlight and craving human blood, but it could cause other complications.

Quarantine was made in 2008 and is a US adaptation of .REC made in 2007. The zombies in these movies were made from a possible mutated strand of rabies, or some unknown virus in the same family. This movie’s probability is pretty high due to it being based on the rabies virus. The infected aren’t instantly changed but it doesn’t take long for symptoms to show either. One of the residence in the building is a vet and even mentions in the movie that the infected seem to be suffering from some kind of rabies. They exhibit vomiting, aggression and muscle spasms and, confusion. The original movie had a more supernatural theme whereas the remake had a more natural theme to the virus’s origin.

Could scientists create a zombie virus?

While looking online I found a few sources that had asked scientists on their opinion of zombies and if a zombie apocalypse could happen. While it’s impossible to raise the dead in the way that Hollywood zombies are shown, it's possible that a violent outbreak could happen. The risk of it becoming a pandemic and taking over the world is not as likely, however. The scientist claim the rabies virus is the closest thing to us becoming zombies. All it would take is a natural evolution of the virus or a scientist mutating the genetics of it. The rabies virus would need to find a way to keeps it’s host alive longer to be able to infect other people instead of killing them off in a few weeks. The virus would also need to be more contagious such as being an air-born virus like the Rage Virus in 28 Days Later.

Some experts theorize that a rabies and flu combination could potentially end up creating the Rage Virus. The flu is extremely contagious and rabies can make people violent and confused. This combination could essentially give us a ‘zombie outbreak’. This would never be able to happen naturally as the two viruses are simply too different. Something like this would be needed to be created in a lab. While the theory is highly probable, the possibility of these two combing and sharing strands is almost impossible, or at the very least, extremely difficult. If they could find a virus in the same family as rabies that have an air-born quality to it, then it could be more possible to create the Rage Virus.

So, could scientists create a zombie virus? In theory, yes. In reality, not really, The amount of time and effort not to mention money, would be excessive. It’s also almost impossible to force two viruses of different families to work together and share traits.

Does this make you feel safer, or are you more disappointed you won’t get to live through a zombie Apocalypse?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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