Primer on Pathogens: Part 3/3

Sometimes you need to take a silly quiz to learn a point.

That’s why I like The Ultimate Zombie Apocalypse Survival Quiz. Now, of course, the quiz is in jest but it brings up several important points when we talk about pathogens and your susceptibility to them. How are zombies often made– by an infectious disease process– at least in books and movies.

But it also examines survival techniques. Have you thought through aspects of survival in your mind? The more you rehearse emergencies– the more apt you are to act. This is one reason why we practice “mock codes” in the hospital setting. Thinking through your response on a mannequin several times makes it less scary when a real person is involved. 

Let’s look at several of these factors.

Your age. Typically the ends of the spectrum are more susceptible to illness. The very old and young for instance. This is why we are super cautious in pediatrics during an infant’s first 30 days of life. A very low temp (anything 100.4 or greater) is concerning and will likely buy the infant a septic work-up. You can read a post I did about newborn septic work-ups here and why babies in their first two months of life should be sheltered in– particularly in the winter.

Where you live. People living more close together have the opportunity to spread disease more easily. This is why when school season starts we see an increase in illness– things like strep throat and meningitis. Because you’re lumping 20-30 (or more) kids in a classroom. Close contact=ease of transmission.

Your general state of health: Obviously, someone who has a healthy immune system and good general health will be able to fight off infection more easily.

Your occupation: When I first started working in pediatrics they warned me about the “Children’s Crud.” It’s not unusual for healthcare workers (those working taking care of people with infectious disease) to get sick a lot in their first couple of months. Suddenly, their immune system is exposed to LOTS of new bugs it hasn’t seen before. Now, I don’t get sick very often because my immune system has been primed for several different types of pathogens. However, my husband came down with a very common pediatric infectious illness from one of our daughters. “Why didn’t you get sick?” he asked. It’s simple– my immune system has seen this bug literally hundreds of times and it laughs it off now.

When I first took the Zombie Survival quiz– I answered fairly honestly with my current state of health. My chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse was 78.8%. 

When I took it a second time– making my health and survival knowledge much worse my score was 35.7%

How about you? How well is your body at fighting off infection? How well do you think you’d survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

If you take the quiz and post your score– there will be a chance to win one copy of either Proof or Poison— your choice. Winner announced Monday, July 29th! Must live in the USA.

Real Life Zombies?!?

Writer Dale Eldon often poses medical questions to me but one question that seemed pertinent for his writing vice was whether or not zombies are a real-life medical possibility. The truth, even for the fiction writer, has to be grounded in realism for the reader to buy in. You either have to work from reality or create a believable story world from scratch.
Here’s a post I did for him on The Walking Dead.

So, are there real life examples of something dead coming back to life? In fact, there are. There are three aspects to consider.

One: Let’s examine the compliant aspect of being a zombie. Is it possible to create a wholly compliant individual? Someone without individual will power?
The answer seems to be yes.



Image: Wikipedia
Let’s consider TTX, the neurotoxin found in the blue-ringed Octopus. If this toxin is absorbed through the skin, it’s akin to having a frontal lobotomy and may lead to a compliant individual. Your personal zombie minion. You can find out more about TTX at the Writer’s Forensic Blog hosted by D.P. Lyle: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/q-and-a-what-are-the-toxic-effects-of-a-poisonous-octopus-bite/.

Two: Someone that is alive is actually declared dead.

One truly frightening aspect is that sometimes lay people and even medical professionals aren’t all that great at determining whether or not a person has a pulse. This influenced changes to how the American Heart Association teaches CPR. Now, it’s encouraged to not spend more than 10 seconds trying to figure out whether or not a person has a pulse. If they’re not responding to you and you can’t find one—just start CPR. If they are conscious, they’ll let you know. If not, they likely need CPR anyway.

We’ve all heard the legends of corpses being found with nail marks in the lid. Well, how about the story from 2011 of a South African man who was presumed dead and brought to the morgue by his family and placed in the freezer– only to wake up about a day later amongst the truly dead and decomposing. You can find that story here: http://abcnews.go.com/International/south-african-dead-man-wakes-screaming-day-morgue/story?id=14154534.

Three: Are there real-life examples of things that are truly dead—no pulse, no breathing, no brain activity—yet, come back to life.

Let’s take the case of the wolf spider. A French researcher,
Julien Petillon, decided to find out and submerged them in water for several hours—like 16. Now dead, they did come back to life. Check out more on this story and what he says about the 16 hour time frame and its significance at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30348224/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/drowned-spiders-come-back-dead/.

Image: Wikipedia
So yes, I would say there are examples of zombie behavior in our world. The compliant individual, those presumed dead but still alive, and those that have died yet are reanimated.

What zombie-like plot can you come up with based on these real-life examples?