Zombie-Attack Science (or never mind H1N1)

Zombie calculator hand

Philip Munz, a graduate student at Carleton University in Ottawa, was watching a lot of movies about the undead and realized that zombification could be regarded as a classic paradigm of infectious spread: people get bitten by zombies, after which they turn into zombies themselves and start biting others. So Munz decided to use the tools of epidemiology to answer a sobering public-health question: could humanity survive a zombie outbreak?

“After 7 to 10 days, everyone was dead or undead,” he says. He tried several counterattacks. Quarantining the zombies didn’t work; it only bought a few extra days of survival for humanity. Even creating a “cure” for zombification led to a grim result. It was possible to save 10 to 15 percent of the population, but everyone else was a zombie. (The cure in his model wasn’t permanent; the cured could be rebitten and rezombified.)

There was only one winning solution: fighting back quickly and fiercely. If, after the first zombies emerge, humanity begins a policy of “eradication,” then the zombies can be beaten. This is, as Munz points out, what traditionally saves humanity in zombie flicks. “People finally realize what’s happened,” he says, “and they call the army in.”

The Ninth Annual Year in Ideas – Magazine – NYTimes.com: Zombie-Attack Science.

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