zombie viruses

zombie viruses

The surge in popularity of zombie fiction over the past few decades has given rise to various narratives surrounding the origins of zombie outbreaks, each with its unique twist. From George A. Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” to “The Walking Dead,” where an airborne virus causes reanimation, zombie fiction has captivated audiences. The zombie narratives may be fictional, but they often draw from scientific truths about how infections spread.

zombie viruses
image credit: cnet.com

 

Dr. Anisha Misra, a clinical microbiologist with a PhD, delves into the scientific underpinnings of zombie lore and sheds light on concerns related to fungal infections.

Addressing Common Zombie Myths:

  1. Can Fungal Infections Impact Human Behavior?
  • In “The Last of Us,” a parasitic fungus called cordyceps triggers a zombie apocalypse. This parasite infects the host’s body, leading to the spread of fungal spores or tendrils.
  • In reality, cordyceps can’t infect humans, but it does highlight a valid point – fungi can develop resistance to high temperatures and infect individuals with elevated body temperatures.
  • Some fungal organisms, like Candida auris, are causing new and widespread infections, likely due to global warming, warmer temperatures, and increased numbers of individuals with compromised immune systems.
  • zombie viruses
  1. Can Viruses Alter Our Genetic Code?
  • “Resident Evil” introduces the concept of a zombie virus altering an individual’s genetic code, leading to significant physical mutations.
  • While this idea has a basis in reality, the genetic mutations resulting from viruses are far more subtle.
  • Certain viruses insert their DNA or RNA into human cells during replication, but these alterations aren’t as dramatic as depicted in zombie fiction.
  • Over time, some retroviruses have become part of the human genome, constituting about 8% of our genetic code.
  • Viruses capable of genetic alterations include HPV, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
  • Prevention and treatment options are available for these retroviral infections.
  • zombie viruses
  1. Can Infections Cause Changes in Your Brain?
  • Zombie fiction consistently depicts infections affecting the brain, leading to behavioral changes.
  • Real-world infections can indeed impact cognitive function, as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi can cause inflammation in or around the brain when left untreated.
  • Meningitis and encephalitis, for example, can result in confusion, hallucinations, memory issues, and other cognitive problems.
  • Some viruses, like HIV, herpes simplex, West Nile virus, and enteroviruses, can lead to encephalitis.
  • Rabies is one of the most well-known viruses causing severe behavioral changes and often fatal outcomes when untreated.
  • zombie viruses
  1. What Is Necrotizing Fasciitis, and Is It Infectious?
  • In zombie fiction, infectious agents often lead to decay and cell death, similar to necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis is a real condition caused by certain bacteria and affects the muscle fascia under the skin.
  • It typically enters the body through wounds, such as cuts or burns.
  • The condition is not transmitted through human-to-human contact but requires inoculation through an open wound.
  • zombie viruses
  1. Can a Drop of Blood Cause Infection?
  • In “28 Days Later,” a single drop of blood can infect a person within seconds.
  • While theoretically possible, several factors would need to align for this to occur.
  • The infected blood would require sufficient infectious particles, and the infection wouldn’t spread as rapidly as depicted.
  • Immediate protective measures are taken by healthcare providers when exposed to blood or bodily fluids.
  • Treatment, including antibiotics and testing for potential infections, is initiated promptly.
  • A drop of blood alone is usually insufficient to cause an infection.
  1. Can Dead Tissue Be Reanimated?
  • Reanimating the dead is a common theme in zombie fiction, though scientifically impossible as of now.
  • Yale researchers have shown promise in restoring function to cells in dead pig organs, potentially revolutionizing organ transplants.
  • While research is in its early stages, it could significantly expand the pool of transplantable organs.

Although zombie narratives stem from various sources of inspiration, they underscore the importance of understanding real-world infections. Many infections caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi are preventable and treatable when detected early. If you experience symptoms or have concerns, consulting a healthcare provider is crucial – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

zombie viruses

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