Should lumbering, flesh-eating ghouls begin to spread their maddening state of undeadness to a frenzied U.S. population ... keep calm and head for the hills.
“You can run, you can hide,” affirm Cornell University researchers who used a fictional zombie outbreak to introduce disease modeling to the epidemiologically challenged.
In Hollywood, zombies are usually depicted as a sort of disease. As it turns out, the beginning of their spread is similar to an outbreak, said lead researcher Alex Alemi, a Cornell graduate student. He and colleagues conducted simulations of how an actual “zombie apocalypse” might spread among the 300 million people who live in the U.S.
One reason not to panic is that “zombies do not fly on airplanes,” the researchers noted in a paper presented March 5 during the 2015 American Physical Society annual meeting. Social diseases tend to spread through direct contact, such as to caregivers and those exposed to contaminated surfaces or air. Although airplanes can take someone with Ebola or influenza to another city, zombies just sort of “amble about,” Alemi said.
Until the undead master faster modes of travel, they will probably just infect those nearest to them, particularly in densely populated areas. By the time they slog to the outskirts, the outbreak will likely have slowed. The students predicted it would take more than four months for zombies to trudge from cities to remote areas of Montana and Nevada. “I like to try to apply hard science to fun topics,” Alemi told the Outliers team.
The peculiar behaviors of the living dead were drawn from Hollywood films, but zombie disease models were based on what epidemiologists know of real-life human interactions and transportation trends. “It shows that science is a tool everyone can benefit from,” Alemi said.