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So a zombie outbreak finally happened, but it's not like it is in the movies. Instead of craving the taste of human brains, those infected with zombiism simply want to shamble along, occasionally groaning, and on rare occasions forming herds. There is some indication that zombies enjoy the same things they enjoyed when they were 'alive', but this has not been proven, and for the most part zombies seem to have lost most or all of their former personality and memories.

Getting bitten or scratched by a zombie still has a very good chance of passing the infection to you (as long as actual blood is drawn), and as can be expected there is no cure. When not being spread through blood contact, the zombie virus seems to infect the recently deceased and those with severely deficient or depleted immune systems.

Zombies live about as long as a dog, ten to twenty years depending on the health of the host, but during this time they still need food, water, and oxygen (albeit a smaller supply than a regular human would need). They appear to be completely resilient to disease, and injuries barely phase them. They show some emotions, and seem to have basic intelligence, but things like stairs are a large mental effort for them, and they do not seem to be able to form new memories.

What I'm wondering, though, is if, say, 15% of the population caught the initial strain, and now are zombies, how would the rest of society react? What adjustments would be made to laws and daily operations in order to account for zombies? What might be done to contain these shambling hordes? Are there any real-world examples to extrapolate from? I'd appreciate both/either the short-term and long-term implications.

Let me know if I left anything important out.

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty darn close. The zombies are classic "slow" zombies but the docile ones wear a collar, so people keep them as pets/cheap labor. Setting is Retro 50s. I wouldn't say it's exactly what you're looking for, but it's a fun/funny movie that might give you some ideas. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 22 '16 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ They need food/water/oxygen, so they're basically still alive, but "injuries don't phase them". That's a weird combination. Furthermore, if a 76 year old who had only a couple of days left to live gets infected does the zombie version last for 10+ years? How/why? They show emotion/intelligence, but they're passive and stairs a challenge for them? They sound like regular people reverted to a state of animalism, but made even dumber. What sort of animal wouldn't lash out at a source of annoyance, like a kid taunting him, or hunt for food, etc. If they're so passive they would simply die. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh - Anything that needs to eat to survive has to have survival instincts to go with it, otherwise it's on the fast track to extinction. When we get hungry we get grouchy, even aggressive. That's a survival instinct - increased aggressiveness and competitiveness to hunt for the nutrients necessary to LIVE. If these things are so passive and harmless then they will simple slouch down in a corner and starve to death. If they have any sort of instincts then they will get hungry and attack people, either to eat them, or because they smell your lunch, or the fries you had. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh - then our stupid Western selves will crippled ourselves economically by trying to care for all these freakin' zombies. I wouldn't be surprised if a Trudeau type of leader would even pass laws making it illegal to "harm" them. Disgusting. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of zombiism might be used as a low-budget form of cryonics. Near-death patients could be deliberately infected in the hopes of slowing things down until a cure for both diseases can be found. $\endgroup$ – sh1 Jan 23 '16 at 21:35
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Disclaimer : I will address a rather sensible subject in that answer (disability), since I am not a native English speaker the subject may be treated in terms seemingly disrespectful (Google translate is unhelpful in that domain). It is obviously not my intention, so if it appears to be the case, please consider suggesting an edit.

First of all, zombies will not be labelled as zombies at first. It looks like a mere detail, but as long as you consider them as people, sick and highly contagious people, but still people, no strategy looking like "kill them all" will be adopted. Because we do not fight against disease by killing the infected (as far as I know humans have never done it).

Anyway, lots of them may die in the first weeks (as pointed out by AndreiROM) due to the lack of survival instinct and stupidity, but lots of them will also take cared of by their family or friends and be brought to the hospital (they just look strangely sick).

Of course, investments will be made to search for a cure, because there will be no reason to thing that a cure may not actually exist. The amount of investment will heavily depend on the affected countries.

On a longer term, it is probable that zombies will be treated as we actually treat heavily disabled people, or people suffering from dementia. Somebody needs to take care of them constantly, for example to help them feed themselves or to avoid them harming themselves. It can be done by the family, but due to the contagious aspect of the disease, it is likely that specialized institutions will be used the most.

The point is that human beings not having, losing, or being unable to fulfil independently they survival instinct is not new. We already have institutions, help centers and even sometimes traditions to help deal with it. The real problem here is the scale. It is about 15% of the population, meanings two things :

  1. The workforce will be greatly reduced, crashing the economy.
  2. Lots of infrastructure will be needed.

I will not address in details these problems here. However you can see that the second point can have two very different outcomes, since taking care of all these zombies will cost a lot of money :

  1. The governments accept to pay for the cares needed by the zombies. This will probably lead to the eradication of the disease over the next decades.
  2. They don't. That means poor people will take care of they zombies themselves, increasing the chance of the epidemic to spread.

In the second scenario, and on the long run, since only a part of the population is affected, zombies may be dehumanized and exterminations may be envisaged. But there would be opposition from the relatives to these zombies.

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    $\begingroup$ "as far as I know humans have never [killed people to prevent outbreaks]". There's a fairly recent example of exactly this happening: the Black Plague. Many people, if suspected sick, were barricaded in their house, and their house was burned down. It's not pretty, but frying bacteria is the #1 way of getting rid of it. It's mostly a PR problem. Once the government can convince everyone (with propaganda, etc) that the zombies are a danger to society, and once a "compensation fee" (read: bounty) is put on all zombies, famillies will hand over the zombies pretty fast. $\endgroup$ – DevilApple227 Feb 25 '16 at 13:25
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The classic "zombie outbreak" involves zombies rising from the grave, then spreading their zombie plague through bites. Those bitten soon turn into zombies themselves, further spreading the plague. The key here is the violence. Traditional zombies change from normal people into homicidal monsters, shrugging off pain and injuries and murdering anyone that gets close enough.

Your zombies, however, are not violent. I posit that your zombies aren't, in fact, zombies at all, but merely normal humans who have suffered some sort of brain injury, brought on by a virus. A symptom of the disease is a period of ultra-low heart rate and breathing, which leads to drastically reduced brain waves, which then leads to many people to be declared dead. When the dead rise, it is after their body has fought off the infection. Unfortunately, the permanent mark of the infection is brain damage: the pain receptors, memory centers, and higher functions destroyed, or nearly so. The result is a shambling, drooling, moaning creature, only a shadow of its former self, able to walk and perhaps eat when food is in front of it, but not much else.

In the short term, this disease will be classified as just that - a highly infectious disease. In most first-world nations, the infected will be rounded up and placed under guard in hospital clean-rooms as a cure is sought. Of course, there is no hope for the infected - once the disease has run its course, those left are permanently brain-damaged. Poor nations will probably kill the infected and burn the bodies, trying to eradicate the disease.

Since the disease is spread through blood, and the infected tend to be fairly passive, few will be infected. If that is the only route of infection, then in the long term, the disease will die out, eventually only remaining in laboratories.

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What about organ-farming? At least based on most movies, zombies have incredibly powerful regeneration abilities. So how about you do something like this: you take sections of certain organs, cut pieces out, then nuke it with an enzyme toxic to viruses and bacteria but undamaging to human cells. Such enzymes (sort of) exist: restrictor enzymes. They slice up DNA at a certain point. So all you would need to do is sequence the viral DNA, and find appropriate restrictor enzymes.

Also, this provides an excellent ability for fighting crime. You could use the zombies for a few things: armed suspect extraction, and interrogation. I am certain that one of the greatest fears of a human would be to become zombified. So when a person is strapped down with a hungry zombie on a leash 3 inches from his face, I think they'll spill the beans faster than an inexperienced worker at a Mexican restaurant. When it comes to armed suspect extraction, its just as simple as teaching a zombie how to use a gun, or if this is impossible, just use a lot of zombies! Apart from the fear factor that may prompt the suspect to surrender, the zombies are unphased by injuries and would, therefore, make very useful soldiers.

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  • $\begingroup$ If getting a zombie bite could infect you, I'm pretty sure getting a full on liver transplant would infect you. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 22 '16 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ Well, no, because all of the virus on/in the liver would be sliced into harmless snippets of DNA. So the virus would technically be in you, but it would be harmless. $\endgroup$ – DevilApple227 Jan 22 '16 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it would be like a zombie vaccine. You could advertise, Get a zombie liver and never ever become a zombie! Because there is absolutely no danger in zombie livers since we cured them even though we can't cure your loved ones! And even if hey were safe no-one would buy them. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 22 '16 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ Why would nobody buy them? Once they are proven in clinical trials, they are completely safe. The PR would be tricky, but government subsidies would make the transplants almost free. Also, you wouldn't exactly advertise the fact that it's from a zombie. $\endgroup$ – DevilApple227 Jan 22 '16 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ I guess if you did that it might be okay. But you'd have zombie rights activists and government regulations, and probably signed waivers as well. I can see lots of people for and against this. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 22 '16 at 22:17
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The zombies are still a carrier. So there is some inherent risk to keeping them around. However, if they are mostly harmless then I would expect any who want to keep their loved ones as 'pets', cleaning up after them, feeding them walking them, etc. I would also expect them to have regular blood tests to make sure they haven't caught the disease yet.

For the rest, try and find something for them, Maybe put them in hamster wheels attached to generators, let them produce electricity and be useful. They don't even have to go fast if there are enough of them. They would be cheap to feed and water. And it would make some use of them. Just killing them off would be expensive and time consuming no matter how your do it (just ask the Nazi's).

Unless you created a power generator that burned zombie bodies for energy, and I suspect that having them walk into the fire pit would be to cruel even for non-liberals, so you'd still have the issue of a 'humane' death before incineration...

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    $\begingroup$ Only a society hell-bent on self destruction would allow you to keep a zombie as a pet. The risk of infection would be far too high. I like your idea of putting them to work on generating power, but this is also a slippery slope. Remember that they still need food and water. Also, if you come to rely on zombie power then a market will appear for zombies to run said power plants. That will be guaranteed to create an industry where people are intentionally zombified in order to fill the zombie-quota. That, and you'll get all the zombie-rights groups on your back. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM ya, the pet thing was more a silly idea. Many would still want their loved ones 'taken care of' look at how much they spend on people in permanent comas? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jan 22 '16 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Far better to simply label them as a bio-hazard, and exterminate them. For PR purposes you can load them onto buses or trucks, take them out into the boonies, dig a big pit, and simply bury them in it - alive, even. "Cruel", but easier than individually executing them then having to clean up the blood, etc. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ The "taking care of them" syndrome is why the government would have to run a propaganda campaign in order to label zombies as dangerous and maintain that attitude in the majority of the population. Also severely punish anyone who tries to keep a zombie around, etc. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM whether that is the smart thing to do or not, not a single politician would sign off on it. What if they come up with a cure? Sending Sally and her grandma to be 'disposed of' while they can walk and react? Good luck. Some alztimers patients could be mistaken with this behavior as well. and on and on... $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jan 22 '16 at 19:50
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Extermination seems like the only reasonable response in my mind.

While not aggressive the zombies still present a large potential threat.

A couple options come to mind.

  1. Purge: Just exterminate every single one of the zombies. No muss, no fuss, send in a clean-up crew with flame throwers.

  2. Exterminate/Experiment: Destroy most of them. Then, like nuclear technology I can see governments doing research into the weaponization of the zombie virus. This would of course end horribly for everyone. Additionally terrorist organizations may drop zombies into population centers and wreak havoc.

  3. The zombie farm: Use the virtually free labor for simple tasks. Its very green energy after all. Utilize zombies as free labor where basic motility is all that is required. This is also not a particularly good idea...but bad choices make for good stories.

I would just add that, I would not want to keep an infectious shell of a former family around for sentimental reasons. Now, I can see a trade springing up if the zombies were not infectious, or perhaps they are only infectious for 6 months at which point they are harmless simpletons, but even then I wouldn't do that to a family member...well maybe one or two but not most of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Flamethrowers are messy. If these things are as passive as the OP describes then simply gather them somewhere and push them off a cliff, or bury them in massive pits (maybe still alive if you don't wanna waste the ammo to take them out?). The point being that their relatives don't see you "burning them alive", and torching the neighborhood in the process. It's good PR. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 22 '16 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM you don't have to televise it! :) Besides you would have evacuated and isolated those that don't appear to be infected first. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 22 '16 at 20:16
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Assuming that in the beginning, people only turn into zombies if they die, not just randomly (not sure about this.)

Some people will want to keep the zombie around for sentimental reason, but most people won't--for them, t zombie can be just another mouth to feed, with no labor or fun or anything coming out of it. The economy will not crumble to dust, but millions could become unemployed if zombies are used for cheap labor (and even if they aren't, every funeral home will go out of business.)

Zombies will be extremely prejudiced against, have no rights, and be segregated, but no zombies will rise against this. There will be frequent zombie massacres, and many zombies will be sold as slaves. There will be a small movement for zombies' rights, but nobody will listen. Some zombies will be studied in labs, but as their numbers grow, they will all be either slaves or dead. Some evil rich people will kill humans, then use their zombies as slaves.

Dead zombies will pile up, and with no funeral homes, eventually become just another pile of rotting stuff. They will rarely infect anyone, since they are not violent.

The economy will fall but slave labor will take its place, leading to a much bigger class division. This will lead to higher death rates of the lower class, leading to more zombies...eventually, the world will be taken over by multitrillionares and their armies of zombies, forced to fight (organs/bows and arrows shooting zombie fingernails or something like that).

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The zombies themselves are not threatening, but whoa is that disease scary! That will be the governing consideration. I base this on how people react to outbreaks of deadly diseases (and that's how this will be viewed, as a deadly disease) now.

Healthy people will place high priority on protecting themselves from carriers. Zombies will be quarantined, by force if necessary, and the people who take care of them will take extra precautions to avoid physical contact. Think about the reactions to the ebola outbreak of 2014-2015, and that involved a much smaller proportion of affected people.

Even once it's determined that transmission isn't airborne or by touch but requires actually drawing blood, there will still be stigma. Think about how people with HIV were treated when the disease first became known -- and how some are treated even today. And, again, we're talking about a much smaller population and a means of transmission that is, shall we say, far from "casual encounter".

With 15% of the population affected by an incurable, spreadable disease, and especially if those people's minds are gone anyway, I think society's reaction will be to round them up, put them in special facilities "for their own good", and keep them away from everybody else until a cure is found or the plague dies out. They're still human beings -- or, at least, you don't know that they aren't -- so, while some will call for "putting them down" for the good of humanity, western sensibilities will not support that position. But fear of the disease would make it very difficult for those who want to integrate zombies into everyday life.

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