World War Z: Are Real Zombies Possible?


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Brain biopsy showing toxoplasmosis. Image by Nephron

But what about humans?

Doctors Torrey and Yolken found that an acute infection of toxoplasmosis results in personality changes similar to those seen in people with schizophrenia.

Toxoplasmosis likes brain tissue and has the capacity for long-term infection, which can start early in life.

How one person reacts to an infection of toxoplasmosis depends on a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, the person’s immune system, virulence (the capacity to cause disease) of the strain, and the part of the brain that it infects.

We humans can become infected with toxoplasmosis by eating under-cooked meat or coming in contact with cat feces – studies have shown that people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were more likely to have had a cat in childhood.

Bath Salts Zombies

It’s not just disease – a new drug circulating the streets called ‘bath salts‘ causes some crazy, zombie-like actions, resulting in Zombie Apocalypse-style news reports. There have been accounts of people eating other people’s faces, and acting generally like mindless zombies after using bath salts – but they’re drug-addled, not dead and re-animated.

Reanimation After Infection and Death

So let’s say a virus did invade a person’s brain and made them a zombie, or some drug caused the damage – could nerve cells live long enough to reanimate the body? A field of science called reanimation research involves resuscitation after the organ(s) have died. According to this research, the brain is the organ that has had the least amount of success in reanimation after cardiac arrest (heart stopped). However, scientists at the Max-Planck Society have found it possible to reanimate the metabolism and function of the nerve cells, and in limited cases have been able to restore neurological function after an hour of circulatory collapse, so, in theory, reanimation is possible to some degree.

Real-Life Zombies: Possible?

Are real-life zombies possible? Some disorders and modern scientific research make it seem that a pandemic of zombies could be just around the corner. Although there are parasites that can change mental function, drugs can simulate zombie-like behavior, and reanimation is possible to some degree, it would take a highly-unlikely ‘perfect storm’ of events to bring all potential issues together, and create a real-life zombie.


Brooks, M. Zombie World. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Urban Dictionary. Solanum. (2005). Accessed December 17, 2012.

Casciato, C. Defining the dead: What is a zombie? (2009). The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis. (2010). Accessed December 17, 2012.

Torrey, EF and Yolken, RH. Toxoplasma gondii and schizophrenia. Emerging Infectious Diseases. (2003). Accessed December 17, 2012.

Max Planck Society. Reanimation Research. Accessed December 17, 2012.

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