World War Z – the movie is based on a similarly-titled novel written by Max Brooks, writing as an agent of the United Nations Postwar Commission who reports the history of a fictitious 10-year zombie war. In this movie, a virus called solanum infects people and causes a zombie pandemic. But could this really happen?
What is a Zombie?
According to the website, The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse, a zombie is, “a dead human that’s been reanimated to a state between life and death; b) a human in a death-like state that strips them of cognition, will and other mental or spiritual traits most considered unique to humanity, esp. the soul.”
In Max Brook’s novel, people are infected with a virus called solanum that turns people into zombies. The Urban dictionary describes how this imaginary virus works – it apparently travels through the bloodstream to attack the brain, which stops all bodily functions. The infected person is then considered dead, except for their brain, where the virus mutates. It transforms the brain into a new organ that does not require oxygen to live, which then somehow reanimates the body, and reactivates some bodily functions – and a zombie is born. It sounds pretty unrealistic, but could this sort of thing really happen? Let’s take a closer look.
How Viruses Work
A virus needs a host (another living organism) to be able to make more viruses. A virus must get inside a hosts’ cell to replicate, then that cell bursts and out comes more viruses which can infect other cells. As your immune system starts fighting the viruses, you start having symptoms. So, can any real life virus turn us into zombies? Let’s look at some examples.
Real Life Disease and Zombies
So are there any real-life viruses or diseases out there that could have the potential to take over a person’s brain and alter their personalities? As odd as it sounds, the answer is a resounding, Maybe.
First candidate: Toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis, a parasite, is the leading cause of death due to food-borne illnesses in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixty million people in the U.S. carry this parasite, but most do not have any symptoms because their immune systems destroys it. However, according to a 2003 study in Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers found that toxoplasmosis infection can alter behavior and neurotransmitter function in the brain. Doctors Torrey and Yolken discovered that rats who are infected with toxoplasmosis lose their natural aversion to a cat’s odor, making them more prone to be eaten by cats. This would be an example of how the host (rat) is controlled by the parasite (toxoplasmosis). Definition of a zombie? Check.
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