University of Calgary

A Zombie Ate My Epidemiology Textbook

Submitted by alumni on Wed, 11/02/2016 - 21:51.

A Zombie Ate My Epidemiology Textbook

Self-confessed zombie enthusiast Stephanie Coward, MSc’14, applies real-life principles of epidemiology to the fictional scenario of a zombie outbreak.

Stephanie Coward uses “zombies” in lessons on community health.

Simulations, public confidence and nimble intelligence are essential components of effective epidemic preparedness. Zombie epidemiology, unreal and undead, can be an effective means of training and engagement.

Thanks to the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead and decades’ worth of movies, zombies have become a staple of popular culture. But, far from being restricted to the worlds of science fiction and horror, researchers have seen how zombies can actually reflect real-world concerns about disease transmission. So much so that agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. have developed “Zombie Day” or Z-Day plans.

Stephanie Coward, MSc’14, is currently a PhD candidate in community health sciences (epidemiology) at the University of Calgary. A pop-culture and zombie enthusiast, she applies real-life principles of epidemiology to the fictional scenario of a zombie outbreak. She has presented these applications to audiences of fellow pop-culture and science devotees at Calgary’s Nerd Nite and the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. This is an excerpt from her talk:

Case Definition

First, during a zombie outbreak, you need to prepare a case definition. To do this, one needs to define the characteristics of an individual with the disease’s signs and symptoms. These should be simple to identify, but allow for enough specificity that a zombie can be correctly identified, i.e., differentiated from an individual high on [the recreational designer drug known as] bath salts.

There are two separate scenarios that need to be accounted for: the transition period after infection and the resulting “zombification” of an individual. During transition, an individual will have a mortal wound or bite accompanied by fever, flu-like symptoms or weakness and fatigue. Once transitioned, the classic zombie has the following characteristics: cannibalistic, blank/empty stare, slow-moving, distracted by motion and sound, impaired cognition, viscous blood, cellular necrosis and no pain response.

Mathematical Modelling

Mathematical modelling of infectious disease is done with pathogens to model disease outbreak and also to quantify the effects of different interventions and possible scenarios. It seems that the only intervention that would allow humans to survive a zombie outbreak is to quickly eradicate them.

With any other intervention, the model shows that the zombies would still overtake humanity. Even a cure would only allow humans and zombies to co-exist. U

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