Field of Science

“Are we doomed?”

#SciDoom A frightening blog post title to say the least!
I first had visions of zombies.. but then something as tiny as an antibiotic resistant bacterium, or as big as an asteroid, could cause us all impending doom. However.. Something like an antibiotic, or perhaps blowing up the asteroid, could save us?
Zombies?
So.. I’m back to the zombies. Most classic zombie movies start by someone becoming 'infected' by an animal, or mutated organism, that has a contagious virus. This virus then spreads throughout the human population turning us all, but a few, into the mindless, slow 'walking dead'. These movies either end happily (a cure is found) or badly (no cure is found and everybody becomes a zombie).

Could it happen?
But could this ‘zombie-type doom’ really happen? My first reaction would be ‘No - are you having a laugh?’ however, when you look closer, there is some science here that could possibly make this happen..
Artificial viruses & zoonotic diseases could all cause a ‘zombie-type doom’ and the virus could be blood borne, or even water borne to cause worldwide devastation – with no means of escape.

Artificial viruses?
Scientists are manipulating viruses daily (in order to find out how they work and to develop vaccines). Some scientists may even change the virus completely giving rise to a new virus. A new virus, if it was to escape from a secure research facility, could be devastating – particularly if it’s a ‘zombie-type doom’ virus.
Still doubting me? One such virus, the Variola virus (the virus that causes smallpox) has been studied by scientists for years since it was eradicated in 1979. So if this disease was eradicated, why study it? Well studying this virus can help develop vaccines against similar viruses that are a problem today. However, if this virus was to escape from these secure research facilities then it could cause a viral outbreak. Worst case scenario: If this virus has been manipulated or artificially altered then it could cause a ‘zombie-type doom’

Zoonotic diseases?
Ok, so if our scientists are incredibly careful people then an artificial ‘zombie-type doom’ virus is unlikely to be developed, or escape. But.. What about zoonotic diseases?
Animal diseases have been well known to spread to humans; some common examples are HIV, Rabies, Plague, Salmonellosis, Avian influenza, Swine influenza, Ebola and BSE.
So if a dog was to be infected by a ‘zombie-type doom’ virus then, not only would this make the dog a zombie but if this was a zoonotic disease – then a bite could transfer the disease to humans. Once transferred to humans the disease could spread through the community leading to the ‘zombie-type doom’.
An example from last year is the case of Swine Flu. This disease was just present in pigs until the virus mutated and crossed the 'speices barrier', enabling it to cause disease in humans. The disease spread rapidly due to it being transmitted via aerosols. Also; Swine Flu managed to cause a global outbreak due to most people using air travel and working in busy cities. The virus was also capable of causing fatal disease in 'healthy adults' – making it a dangerous disease.

Can we be saved?
Yes and No is the short answer. Yes - if we could develop a vaccine before we all become 'zombies' (or we grab a cricket bat and do what they did in 'Shaun  of the dead'). No - if we could not develop a vaccine in time.
But don't worry - hopefully this 'zombie type doom' will not occur - however viral and other microbial diseases are a certainity. Diseases like Swine Flu will still cause us problems.

2 comments:

  1. I'm interested in the pathway of this "zombie-type doom" virus - how does it work?

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  2. It's all hypothetical - but I'd imagine it would cause necrosis of brain/neural tissue (giving the slow and 'mindless' appearance). The whole zombies going around 'biting' each other just represents one way the virus could be transmitted via bodily fluids?

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