Friday, April 11, 2014

Disease or Not Disease: That Is the Question

My disease post has to be prefaced by a confession. I am not one of The Walking Dead faithful. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the show. But I only started watching this season, which is mighty late in the game. Sure. I read the first few graphic novels, but I didn't stick with them. They just weren't my cup of arsenic-laced cocoa at the time.

That said, I am a titch literal minded. Especially when it comes to something like the end of the world. I want to know how that came down. And now that this season's episodes are over I can ask the questions that no one else of my acquaintance seems to be able to answer.

What the hell? No. Seriously. I get that Rick and the other survivors don't know what happened. Whether the whole zombie thing was the result of disease or something else -let me say 'magic' in the absence of any other nonmedical mechanism. They have some indication from earlier episodes that everyone's infected with whatever this disease is. It doesn't matter how or when you die - in that world, if you die, you will turn into one of the undead until someone destroys your brain.

Did I mention we have Walking Dead viewing and potluck parties? Tasty.

Is the zombie plague in this show supposed to have been a disease or not? Based on some of the evidence - the way the disaster started and, subsequently spread, it seems like disease. Yet...I'm skeptical.

From IMDB:
Clearly the zombie thing isn't transmitted person to person like strep throat. Transmission rates would be too slow to account for the outbreak described in the books and on the show. Viral transmission would make more sense. The disease could be airborne and could infect multiple people at any one go - when someone coughed or sneezed. If there's an incubation period, the infected, but not yet symptomatic, could travel anywhere in the world only to infect more people when symptoms did manifest. We've seen this actually happen with SARS and other illnesses.

The only problem is that in the course of human history, it's been proven following epidemic after epidemic, that if you infect a large enough segment of the species with a single disease, a certain percentage of that population will emerge as immune. Some will get sick and recover with no adverse effect. Some will never fall ill at all. It's as if their bodies are armored against that particular bug. (Which isn't to say that the next thing to come along won't kill them, but that's a different post.)

Still, there's no evidence of this on The Walking Dead. Not to mention that viruses aren't known for animating corpses. There *are* instances of zombie-like afflictions in the insect world - a fungus that takes over a certain species of ant. A wasp that uses venom to take over the nervous system of a certain species of beetle. In neither case is the victim actually dead - their living bodies are shanghaied. Obviously, this is not what's happening on The Walking Dead - not given the rotting, flesh falling away animated corpses we see on the show.

So work with me here. I want to be educated. What the hell happened and is still happening in the world of The Walking Dead??


  1. Well, to be honest - finding out someone has an immunity is going to either be slim or cold comfort at this point. You're either going to die and not turn, in which case it's a little late - or you get bit. Maybe you don't turn, but maybe you die anyway because you're being torn apart by other zombies, or your friends kill you because you've been bit and they expect you to turn.

    It's a really odd sort of virus because it doesn't actually appear to trigger until the body itself is dead. Which okay. I get viruses can be dormant until the situation is good, but what exactly is it living on? Most viruses go dormant when they're not in a host situation (or carrier). If you're a carrier when you're alive, what is it about death that turns on the virus? Lack of brain activity? Blood flow?

    (Obviously I have too much time to ponder this show...)

    1. Well, and see. My issue with the virus model is that viruses are JUST packages designed to take over your cellular reproduction cycles so that your cells produce more virus. That's all they do. So how does that translate into animating *dead* cells? In a way, it's almost like the 'disease' inside a single zombie has formed a kind of hive mind that works in concert to somehow bring rotting neural tissue back to some semblance of function...Add into it that some of these corpses are walking without benefit of the muscular systems required for motion and you see why I lean toward calling BS on a disease. Dude. This is totally magic. :D

  2. I'm saying magic as well. It acts too weirdly for a disease imo.
    And why haven't I seen zombie pigs yet, even though they heavily hinted in this season that animals are getting sick as well?!

  3. Have never watched the Walking Dead so can't comment on the show. However, if you're looking for a scientific explanation Mira Grant's very well researched Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Deadline, Blackout) has a similar everyone-who-dies-turns-into-a-zombie mechanism.