Zombies started out as deceased persons who had been revived by less than upstanding magic users for the purpose of serving their newfound masters. Considering that the belief sprung up in colonial Haiti, it should come as no surprise to learn that it was influenced a great deal by the institution of slavery that existed upon said island. With that said, zombies in modern books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other media are more influenced by modern concerns, which is why they are the products of horrific diseases as often as they are the products of dark magic.
Since zombies have become so popular in our modern media, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are people who are curious about whether a zombie outbreak can ever happen in real life or not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is more complicated than either a simple and straightforward "Yes" or a "No." However, there are reasons to believe that something similar to certain forms of zombie outbreaks can happen in theory, though the chances of that actually happening are not high to say the least.
Forget about TV and Movies
First, a zombie outbreak in the sense of the dead rising from their graves is flat-out impossible. There is a limit to what natural processes can pull off on their own, meaning that this is a scenario that would require blatant magic. However, a zombie outbreak in the sense of a contagious disease robbing victims of their higher faculties and then forcing them to attack other people isn't as far-fetched as most people would like, not least because there is a wide range of parasites out there that can force their victims into illogical or even outright suicidal behavior.
Someone interested in this topic can find countless examples of parasites that can cause their victims to seek out conditions that are suitable for the parasite but not so much for the host. However, people have a tendency to believe that we are immune to such problems when we are not. For proof, look no further than rabies, which is known to cause a number of behavioral changes in both its human and its non-human victims. One excellent example is how something along the lines of 80 percent of human victims of rabies suffer from a fear of water as well as an inability to swallow. This can be blamed on the fact that the rabies virus breed in the salivary glands, meaning that swallow would reduce the infectiousness of the host. With that said, another example is the infamous aggressiveness caused by the disease, which is intended to help the rabies virus spread via biting. Based on this, it should be clear that humans are not somehow exempt from parasites that can change the behavior of their hosts.
Fortunately, we know of nothing that combine the infectiousness with the behavioral changes needed to create a zombie outbreak. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that something along those lines can't pop up at some point in the future. In part, this is because pathogens are evolving on a constant basis, which providing new strains with new capabilities. However, it should also be noted that pathogens can jump from species to species, which can often result in different consequences for different species. In fact, the high number of domesticated species in the Old World versus the paucity of domesticated species in the Americas is the reason that the population of the Americas was devastated by human-compatible infectious diseases from the Old World during the Columbian Exchange whereas nothing similar happened to the population of the Old World because of human-compatible infectious diseases from the Americas.
What Would Happen in the Event of a Zombie Outbreak?
On a final note, even if a zombie outbreak happened in real life, it is doubtful that it would lead to the end of the world as we know it. In part, this is because developed countries have strong institutions in place to stop the spread of infectious diseases, as shown by the recent example of the ebola outbreak that took a horrible toll on a number of developing countries but showed no such results in their developed counterparts. However, it should also be noted that there is something of a trade-off between lethality and infectiousness for infectious diseases because if something is too lethal, it won't have much time to spread, as shown by multiple examples of horrific diseases from historical times that haven't had a lot of reappearances because they were too effective at killing their hosts. If there is anything that is common to zombie outbreaks, it is that the responsible pathogen is very, very lethal because zombies are almost always very, very dumb.
Written by Garrett Parker
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