Photo by Michael R Perry
Reddit, Buzzfeed, 4Chan, 9gag – any one of those websites where people hang out when they should be doing something more worthwhile – all seem convinced and kind of excited about the possibility of a forthcoming zombie apocalypse. I'm assuming either they haven't properly pondered the reality of every single member of their families becoming heartless death machines, or they just hate every single member of their families.
Whatever the reason, they probably need to start getting their shit together rather than just posting zombie-themed infographics online, because I'm pretty sure a zombie apocalypse wouldn't be all fun memes and Shaun of the Dead jokes. In fact, it would mostly be loneliness, desperation and a very slow death by yourself in some dank hovel miles from anyone you ever knew. American Matt Mogk founded the Zombie Research Society (yes, that's a real thing) to try to work out ways of surviving any impending zombie plague. I'd rather not have my headstone read "Died from an infected bite to the brain," so I gave Matt a call to get some guidance.
VICE: Hey Matt, how real is this possibility of a zombie outbreak?
Matt Mogk: Well, if you think about the newest wave of zombies – what I call the living zombies; the infected who don’t die and come back to life, but are just sick with this rage infection – it’s actually very possible. Basically, if we take the "rising from the dead" thing out of the equation, it’s absolutely possible that something like that could happen.
What's this rage infection you're talking about?
There are a couple of different diseases that are compelling when you look at the living zombie. One is called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD), which is caused by a mutated protein that gets in your brain, mutates all the other proteins and kills you. It’s 100 percent fatal, so if you're exposed to it, you will get it and you will die. Over the past 15 years, the way it's transmitted from one person to another has been changing. It used to be that if I had mad cow disease, the only way you could get it from me is if you ate my brains after I died, so you'd see instances of it in cannibalistic tribes around the world.
But new indications suggest it can be transferred from blood to blood and, in the most recent version, vCJD, the symptoms cause you to go insane and often violently insane. Some experts have suggested that if someone starts showing advance signs of vCJD, you should lock them in a room and let them go violently insane until they die. Because if they bite you, you will get it and you will go violently insane.
Isn't that a bit pseudo-sciencey?
Well, I was talking to the head of the Centre for National Preparedness, which is a think tank associated with the university of Pittsburgh. He said, "Did you hear about this new study where researchers in Sweden got a prion disease – a disease similar to CJD – to transmit from one mouse to another through the aerosol route?" So all it had to do was breath in the direction of the other mouse and it went violently insane and died. They're supposed to be in charge of getting us ready for the next unknown public health crisis and he didn’t even want to know about it.
Wow, that's scary.
I’m not trying to be alarmist, but there are indications that things are moving in that direction. When you look at the blind facts, truth is stranger than fiction. It’s creepy stuff. I'm more freaked out by zombies than I ever have been, because when you actually look at it, it's not as far-fetched as you might think. It actually does hold up to a certain extent, which makes you go, "Well, that sucks."
Yeah, that definitely sucks. What kind of work does the Zombie Research Society do?
Our core mission is to advance zombie knowledge and respect in the arts and sciences. On the science side, we develop theories about what a zombie outbreak would be like – everything from what the government response would be to which diseases are mutating. From there, it leads to our second prong, which is survival. If we have a better idea of what a zombie outbreak would be like, then we can work out the best way to survive. The Zombie Research Society motto is "What you don’t know can eat you," so we strive to research as much as we can before it’s too late.
How long do we have before the coming zombie plague?
The way I think about zombies is that it could happen at any time, but the real problem is that once it happens, it’s sort of game over. There's no more having a pleasant debate about what it might be like and there's no more talking about what would be the biggest concern. At that point, we're just totally screwed. Unfortunately, that’s the best answer I have.
Shit. So how can I prevent my brain from being eaten by the living dead?
There are two very important elements of survival. One is to think about the rule of threes. In a worst-case scenario, you're dead in three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. So develop your survival strategy around those priorities. It doesn’t really mimic a video game – its not like I’m going to get a shotgun, blow a bunch of zombie heads off and miraculously find ammunition. The first thing I would do in terms of survival is think about the basics of life, because those don’t go away.
The next thing you have to ask yourself is 'Will other people be executing the same plan as me?' Going to some big retail store to get all your supplies when the plague hits is not a good idea. In 2008, there was a 6ft 4, 300-pound Walmart worker in Long Island who was trampled to death on Black Friday because suburban mums were rushing into the store to get discounts on flat screen TVs. So if that’s what happens on a normal day at a big retail store, imagine when dead uncle Freddie comes back and is trying to eat you.
Yeah, I'd rather not face a gaggle of zombie mums. Are you going to survive the zombie invasion?
I've got a big advantage because my wife says that she wouldn't want to live if there was no hot water or happy hour. She says I could eat her, so I have 105 pounds of portable food.
Right. So are we all going to die?
I don't think there's any reason to think that everyone will die. What I reckon the worst case scenario would be is that one percent of the global population will survive the coming zombie plague. So we strive to be that one percent.
If you could give a warning to the non-believers, what would you say?
You may say a zombie plague is never going to hit and you could be right, but I only have to be right once. I could be wrong a thousand times and the thousand-and-first time – when a dead maniac shows up at your front door, no matter where I am in the world, keep in mind that there'll be a little voice in the back of your head – my voice – saying "I told you so."
Follow James on Twitter: @jamesemb
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