Will the dead really walk?

Shambling corpses are America’s new love affair. From the lauded show “The Walking Dead” to a zombie equivalent of “Twilight,” the rotting reminders of humanity’s dark side are everywhere. Of course, it has become a popular pastime to speculate on whether a zombie apocalypse could actually happen.

A common theme brought up by the “it could happen” crowd are plagues and parasites. There’s a parasite called toxoplasmosa gondii that infects rats, takes over their brains, and purposely gets them eaten by cats, so that the parasite can breed in the cats’ intestines.

Will the zombies be coming for you? Image from Creative Commons.
Will the zombies be coming for you? Image from Creative Commons.

About half the human population is infected with this parasite, and it has been shown to cause personality changes in some people. While it might be a stretch to imagine that a change in personality would be so drastic as hungering for human brains, perhaps it’s a possibility if someone like Hannibal Lecter¬†or the real-life Florida face-eater gets infected.

Remember that saying, “You are what you eat”? It could be more ominous than our mothers meant when they used it to encourage veggie consumption. Enter bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known to the world as mad cow disease. In the words of Cracked.com, the disease turns sweet old Bessy into a “stumbling, mindless attack cow.”

The terrifying part (or the wonderful part, if you’re ready for the zombie apocalypse, like Joss Whedon is) is that the disease can infect humans, and is called the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Symptoms include changes in how infected folk walk, and rapid brain degradation. To the zombie survivalists, this means that after a bad hamburger, you just might develop a taste for human flesh.

But science writer Kyle Hill doesn’t buy these theories. Hill builds a convincing case that given the fact that zombies are basically slower, stupider humans, and that living humans have proven to be damn good killers, it turns out it might be the zombies who should run. He has a point — one hypothesis about Neanderthal extinction suggests that early humans had a hand in driving them to an early grave.

Factor in that the U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, and it begins to look like zombies wouldn’t even get close to destroying civilization. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way the apocalypse ends — not with a bang but a whimper.

Of course, none of this will stop apocalypse enthusiasts from practicing their machete skills. But perhaps it might provide some peace of mind for those of you who stay up too late watching decaying visages haunt your TV screens.

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