Zombies are as old as history itself, and have existed in every culture in every era.

From Ancient Mesopotamia to Bronze Age Christian lore to Colonial Age Haitian voodoo to the shambling rotting corpses that we all know and love today.  Zombies have gone through many transitions.  Could this mythical creature have any basis in reality?

For the sake of argument, we’re going to be looking at the modern day pop culture zombies: the main antagonists in Fear the Walking Dead (prequel to The Walking Dead). Could dead bodies actually be reanimated and hunger for flesh? To answer this question, we must first analyze the zombies we are dealing with.

In Fear the Walking Dead, the zombies are literally corpses.  They go through the same stages of decomposition as all bodies do.

Nick Clark Fear the walking dead                                   Frank Dillane as Nick Clark
(Credit: Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)

Edwin Jenner, the CDC doctor in S01E06 of The Walking Dead, informs Rick and the protagonists the only living part of the zombies are their mesencephalon.  That’s the part of the brain that operates solely on instinct and instinct alone and the most basic of motor skills. Does a virus like that exist?

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending if a zombie apocalypse is as exciting for you as it is for me) such an infection is not real. As far as our understanding of the natural world goes it is actually impossible.  But there are some great zombie substitutes!

For example: cordyceps.

Cordyceps is a fungus that enters the bodies of any ant (affects other insects too, but mostly ants).  If an ant is unfortunate enough to inhale one of its spores, the fungus takes over its brain. It then forces the ant to climb to the highest plant on the highest tree and wait there.  Wait as it slowly replaces every cell in its body with fungus. Once the ant is reduced to a waxy, living statue, the fungus then releases its spores.  And the high winds spread them  throughout the jungle, thereby starting the process again. Now, cordyceps doesn’t affect humans, but viruses and bacteria have been known to travel through species. 

For example AIDS (originally only found in chimps), the flu (originally only found in pigs), the Bubonic Plague (originally only found in mice), and even chicken pox (originally only found in chickens). Cordyceps could very well evolve to affect humans.  Making a very original and airborne zombie!

Another more obvious zombie virus substitute is rabies.

Although not exactly total mind control, rabies still makes its hosts violent, lash out at their doctors, and already travels through saliva. Of course, the hosts are still alive, and still retain the vast majority of their cerebral functions.  But if the virus only enhances the fury that its hosts experience, we would have something very similar to the Rage Virus.   The infection seen in 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and the 28 Days Later comic book series.

Fear the Walking Dead is a show that has captured the attention of young and old alike.  But has no scientific basis in reality, as many of us would like to hope.

Stories, though, are not required to be 100% accurate.  They just need to be convincing enough for the audience that it could happen, at least in its own Universe. So although the walking dead could never truly occur, sleep easy my zombie fanatics.  There are many other illnesses capable bringing about the collapse of modern civilization!

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