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We have Earth. Modern Earth. Some moron with more brains than common sense designs a cordyceps strain to infect people via bites. Now we have zombies. The virus spreads across the world and in a time frame of about 6 months 75% of the global population is dead with 10% still infected, 14% healthy but still susceptible to infection, and the other 1% immune (or rather, their immune systems are still susceptible, but they have a good chance of at least 70% to fight the infection off).

The situation stabilizes here. The infected die after a month or two and the fungus continues to grow in them. Every fall and spring, the fungus releases millions of spores into the air to find new victims. The surviving population finds itself in a bad situation. The spores are not 100% virulent meaning if you inhale one! you don't definitively catch it, but about one in every thirty people will catch it.

Assuming the survivors find a general way to stay away from the infected outside, how would society evolve as reconstruction begins with the threat of anyone you know waking up one morning a zombie within your walls?

A few notes:

  • The zombies are living people and as such anything physically possible for a person is possible for a zombie. The zombies are, however not too bright, so they probably cannot figure out how to open a door. The fungus is resistant to all known fungicides/antibiotics/whatever.

  • We are talking about US society (I recognize there are slight regional differences, but it should be answerable. While I welcome commentary on how the rest of the world would respond, explicitly requiring it would make this question too broad.

  • The infection remains passive (think small fever or 99/100 degrees)for 2 or 3 days, and takes over the victim shortly (30 minutes to a hour) upon becoming active.

  • Spores can survive for 5 or six years outside of a host, and sometimes takes root in animals similar to humans, such as pigs and monkeys/apes.

This is not a question about the whether my scenario (and therefore type of disease) is realistic and as such I will vigorously down vote any answers that are based solely on the unreality of my scenario.

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    $\begingroup$ why not burn bodies of dead so they can not release fungus? $\endgroup$ – Lukáš Rutar Oct 14 '15 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @LukášRutar Well, there are billions of dead globally and regionally the number of dead is going to be pretty large, especially with a good number of infected still roaming the countryside. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Oct 14 '15 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think your situation lasts long enough for society to evolve, i.e., permanently change to accommodate it. It only has to survive a couple years, then everything is back to normal. At least, post apocalyptical normal. Death in a couple months, even if the body lays undiscovered, it'll decompose, not last for years and years (especially since the cordy. is eating it), and can't last more than 6 months outside the body. So fire, masks, situation normal in 18-24 months. If you want permanent society change, I'd recommend modeling it on anthrax, which can lay dormant in the soil forever-ish $\endgroup$ – Patches Oct 14 '15 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Just saying: I love this idea. Kudos $\endgroup$ – kaine Oct 14 '15 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ Just have everyone sleep in a closed room with a window. If sis doesn't come down for breakfast, look in the window to see if she's zombified. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Oct 23 '15 at 20:45
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I suppose that depends on how predictable the timetable is for when the spores are released. Is it something that can be plotted out, like the moon cycle, or even the fall foliage turning colors (which is pretty damn'd accurate, all things considered). And if you say that it's impossible for them to learn the schedule, then I say this: We, as a species, have learned the cycle of when leaves will be at their peak color, and that's not life threatening. If our survival depends on the fact that you wake up knowing that your neighbor, or wife, or child will not be a zombie, then you figure out pretty quick how to map out the fungus.

What you should consider: How easy is it for the spores to get into a "generally" closed building. For instance, do you have to be sleeping in a hermetically sealed room or is it safe enough to simply have windows closed? If no one is safe, regardless, then the only scenario I see as possible is this: They would need to set up a system where everyone sleeps in separate living quarters and is locked in from the inside, with their keys in their room. As zombies (unless you explicitly define them as tactile/intelligent zombies), they won't be able to unlock their own doors, so a quick headcount would quickly reveal the isolated zombie. Is this how our society is set up now? No, not really, unless you count prisons, but the society would have to adapt to be something like this, unless they want to gamble with losing their entire settlement each time the spores are released.

edit: You mentioned that spores can survive 5-6 years outside of a host. This can become an issue. Seeing that spores are re-released twice a year, if they don't degrade then you will end up with spores sitting on top of spores. Imagine if snow didn't melt for five/six years after it fell. You'd have five years worth of snow on top of snow before anything melted. Unless there really isn't a large amount of spore, or it is only released in small amounts, you'll end up with an ecosystem that is too laden with the spore to support any healthy animal population. I think you should rethink how long you want to spores to survive. Perhaps a month outside of a host/their plant so that there's two periods of time during the year where going "outside" is more dangerous than naught.

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  • $\begingroup$ I did specify that the spores are released in the spring and fall. Generally whenever the temperature is just starting to get cold or just starting to get warm again. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Oct 14 '15 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ If it is specifically related to the temperature, then it should be simple enough for people (if they still have modern meteorological equipment/training, to specify exact days when more protection is needed. IE, it's gunna drop below 32 degrees tonight folks, so make sure that you're isolated and lock your doors, etc. $\endgroup$ – Matt Woodspirit Oct 14 '15 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ In regards to your edit - the time it can remain dormant seemed to be increased so that the spores wouldn't just die out in a couple years when there were few humans left to infect. OP seems to want an ongoing problem - reducing the dormancy time makes it more likely to be a single catastrophic event that only strikes once. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 14 '15 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Double, if that's the case, then I think OP needs to do some rethinking. If I was living in a situation like that, I'd never go outside unless there was a life/death reason. There needs to be some give/take with this logistically. Say for instance that the spore is thick enough that you can see it as though it was a heavy dust outside. Okay, so now you can brush it into piles with a broom. But instead if it's thin and airborne like pollen, it'd be nigh on impossible for anything constructive to happen. I guess I just don't see the need to have them have such a long shelf life if they are... $\endgroup$ – Matt Woodspirit Oct 14 '15 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ renewed twice a year. $\endgroup$ – Matt Woodspirit Oct 14 '15 at 18:57
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HEPA style masks. Worn all the time except when eating or changing out to a new one.

Unless the buildings are hermetically sealed it won't prevent the spores from entering, only slow them down. If there are specific times of the year where the spores are much thicker, then the masks AND staying indoors would be a good practice for those times.

I also agree, that burning corpses of zombies would also help reduce the risk of infection. Knowing the life cycle of the fungus is the best way to combat it. Disrupting the cycle as much as possible will slow down the spread as much as possible.

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Understanding the Risks and Hardships

It could be a period of a couple months that the spores are actively airborne - it doesn't really say how long in the spring and fall, but I'm guessing it wouldn't just be a day or so. Probably looking around a couple weeks to a month's timeframe in each season?

As part of the Midwest U.S. history, when people couldn't just go to the store, food was generally stored for the winter for when things were sparse. They still struggled at times. You're looking at adding two more months of time where people are unable to do things like plant crops, hunt for food, or construct additional buildings, outdoor tools, or gather resources. Considering Spring and Fall are very busy farming seasons this is going to put a severe strain on things regarding food.

This is more manageable if the location doesn't have to deal with winters, but those regions are going to have to deal with the wild hog populations - which can also turn into zombies and potentially keep active airborne spores going for a long period of time. This means our survivors will have an easier time starting out, but they'll have to either start eliminating the pig populations or continue spore-prevention strategies for generations to come.

However, it gets much worse since the spores can remain dormant. That would mean pretty much all your supplies and food would have to come from an isolated environment to completely eliminate the risk, with the same amount of protection that the people take during heavy spore activity.


Reduce the Risks

Until such a time when we can get a fully isolated and self-sustaining community, they'd have to just try reducing the risks as much as possible. There would have to be some kind of decontamination method every time people came back in, especially with certain kinds of supplies.

Reducing the amount of spores in the immediate area would be possible by burning everything in a radius around the community, but won't eliminate everything. Such things are easy to get out-of-hand though and require resources to start and control the fire.

They would have to try and reduce the risk of inhalation, with masks and running air filters if possible (though careful on changing the filter). The more barriers there are to catch potential spores, the better.

It would be ideal if anybody with a fever for more than a day would become isolated. If it's possible to take a temperature every morning and every night, they should do that and then isolate anyone with 2 consecutive fever measurings. (measuring because, depending on how slight of a fever - it might not be visible). If they do turn into a zombie, burning would be best.


Overall Result

We're looking at maybe eight to ten years of struggling for survival in the central and northern U.S, while the south will continue being a danger zone for the foreseeable future due to the wild hogs. The first year or so will wipe out the majority of people. The next 2 years will wipe out those who don't take all the proper precautions, or those who live in areas where it hadn't yet been able to spread. After the first 3 years, most people who are going to become infected have done so. Airborne spores are now highly unlikely because there are few hosts being infected, and those who are infected should be in a safe community that has figured out how to "take care of" them in the proper manner. Add in 5 to 6 years for the spores to become inactive, and then society can slowly start to rebuild normally, though fear is likely going to make some precautions a permanent piece of society for quite a while - especially since the fungus probably won't completely die out for a very long time.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about porker? I apologize if I added a fact after you started writing this (I wanted to know society's reaction to this as a permanent threat) but I guess I needed to clarify for. I added that pigs and monkeys could catch it in response to the comment by @Patches that we could essentially out last the threat of infection. Pigs just so happen to breed like, well, pigs so they will be around for a long time. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Oct 14 '15 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan Honestly, I'm not sure how that affects things. Since the young stay with the mother as a family unit - I had thought that once one catches the fungus it would become zombified and infect the others via bites.. or kill them. Pigs already cannibalize at times. Wikipedia states that, "In the early 2000s, the range of feral pigs includes all of the U.S. south of the 36°N" - which explains why I've never even seen or heard of a wild hog around the area I live. So it could be a permanent threat in the south. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 14 '15 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan I've edited the answer a bit. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Oct 14 '15 at 17:39
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People should use gas masks 90% of time, have hermetical places to eat/sleep, and take care of animals.

Gas masks

Providing gas masks for everyone shouldn't be that much of a problem. People would need to wear them anytime they're not sleeping/eating (even then, one could wear them while sleeping but it would cause discomfort).

Hermetical shelters

Isolating every single home would cause a lot of trouble and would be expensive. I think that building big shelters where people could stay to eat/sleep would be the best option. It could also be used in case there's a zombie outbreak, but people wouldn't be obliged to stay in the shelter as long as there's no "alert". Shelters should be relatively small, maybe 1/20th of your population persons per shelter. That way, if a shelter is ever compromised, you "only" loose 1/20th of your population. This technique is used in giant web server farms, where computers are stored in containers. If a container burns, for example, you don't loose everything.

This part deals with the transmission via the fungus, but it still doesn't settle many other problems.

What if someone's gas mask breaks or if there's a breach in a shelter.

If a shelter is compromised

It should be locked down. Tactical teams would be sent inside to kill the new zombies, and these zombies should be immediately burned or isolated using something that completely blocks air (Some kind of foam that hardens at the contact of air could do it pretty well and avoid the burning which stinks/is more dangerous). People would need to follow emergency procedures, which would imply to be checked one by one before they can get out of the shelter (where they'd be dispatched to another shelter until this one is "clear").

If a gas mask breaks

Simple, kill the Batman person and burn him/her right away. (Again, maybe the foam would be better)

Vegetation/Animals

Now, if the fungus can stay on vegetation, you need to make sure your food sources aren't compromised. Which means either A : Find trees that aren't infected, and transplant them in a greenhouse; B gather seeds that aren't infected, plant them, and burn everything once again.

For animals, the same protocol as plants would apply. Everyone could turn vegan, and wild animals would be considered extra-dangerous when seen in cities (Should be killed on spot). If the virus can spread to more animals, it would be safe to try to build a shelter for non-infected animals to keep them alive (not for food) to keep the species living. One male/one female of each species (kind of Noah's arch) would do it, and it'd be hell-of-a zoo to visit! In that case, people really should turn vegan, considering the small amount of animals that would survive, eating them would bring them to extinction pretty quickly.

Defense

Now, to defend against existing zombies, you would need simple walls. I assume there wouldn't be that much zombies if everyone follows the protocols clearly, so that aspect might not be that important. Burning everything around cities would prevent fungus from being too close, and if it's possible, air sensors could be placed so we'd know when the fungus would be close.

The dome!

If that's an option, you could build a dome over big cities to keep everything clear, air from the outside would be filtered before entering the dome.

Small extra

Using giant fans around cities would be a "low cost" option to slow down the fungus spreading.

Also, once in awhile, planes like the one used to fight forest-fire could be used to drop acid/foam/napalm (though napalm wouldn't be good for air quality on the long scale) on the dead people's hot spot to slow the fungus from "vaporizing".

Overall

The most important change would be a strict control of the air quality. Shelters should be 100% safe at all time, which would include maintenance. Apart from that, people living with gas masks could do everything we normally do at the moment, even navigate from city to city, but people would need to be inspected on arrival to make sure they're fungus-free. Using this control, at some point the fungus would be eradicated and everything would get back to normal.

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  • $\begingroup$ Easiest way to deal with a compromise would be to divide into many sealable sections connected by positive-pressurized hallways, so if the even of a breach a remote control center could immediately seal the affected area. Keep some cobalt-60 in a sealed lead chamber to be remotely opened in case of breach as a gamma ray source, which will damage the DNA inside the spores and inactivate them. If there are any large areas "lost" to zombies with no reasonable means of control, use the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles to do the same. $\endgroup$ – aidanh010 Aug 9 at 19:02

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