A common thing we see in zombie movies in the ability to remove the infected area (usually the arm or leg) despite the fact that a blood borne illness would travel throughout the body. How could I design a zombie illness that would allow for removal of a limb to save the person?

For example, would a virus be better, or would a fungal infection allow for limb removal? Would blood borne biting work or would water borne infection be better? What zombie design would allow me to remove a limb to save the person?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Many microorganisms are specific enough to feast upon some tissues (muscle) and not in others (blood). For example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necrotizing_fasciitis is mostly due to a bacteria. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 4 '16 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Why not poison or venom, and use a snake bite kit to suck the poison/virus out? duckduckgo.com/?q=snake+bite+suction $\endgroup$ – Chloe Sep 4 '16 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Chloe because poison/venom is a completely different thing from disease, they are in no way related. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 4 '16 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @UncleTres Except flakka and bath salts causes zombie behavior... $\endgroup$ – Chloe Sep 4 '16 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Chloe no, they really don't. 1, it it a high, not an illness; 2, it cannot be transmitted. What you suggest is not feasible. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 4 '16 at 18:41

Use rabies as your model. Once biten, the virus must replicate and move towards a nerve cell. Once a nerve is infected, it travels its way up the nervous system to the brain. Up until this point, it is treatable. It takes about 10 days.

Radiolab covers the mechanism in Rodney Versus Death.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, I read once a theory that the the source of the legend of vampires in Eastern Europe could be rabies-infected people. $\endgroup$ – Taladris Sep 5 '16 at 0:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Taladris I always heard that rabies inspired werewolves (get bitten by a wolf -> turn into an aggressive, biting wolf-like monster) $\endgroup$ – Angelo Fuchs Sep 5 '16 at 7:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AngeloFuchs: The theory was that rabids are over-sensitive to light and smell, which would explain why vampires run away when see/smell garlic. Also, the disease difform rabids' face and let the teeth visible. It was in a science popularization magazine for children, so I don't know how much support for the scientific community that theory got. $\endgroup$ – Taladris Sep 5 '16 at 8:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I found this article: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9748039. It fits with the period I read the theory (1998). [Note that the first article in Google search "Vampires and rabies" links Rabies to vampires AND zombies, but I have no time to read it right now]. $\endgroup$ – Taladris Sep 5 '16 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Taladris Wikipedia is with you. Vampire lists rabies as part of the original creation of the myths, Werewolves lists it as something of recent thinking. $\endgroup$ – Angelo Fuchs Sep 5 '16 at 8:38

Most germs (virus, bacteria or fungal) are harmless in small amount. They need to overwhelm the immune system.

So, even if a few germs invade the body through the blood, the bulk of the infection will be localized around the bite... at least for a time.

This means you don't need anything special. Infection works pretty much like in the movies. If you cut the limb quickly, you're safe.


Take a look at necrotizing fasciitis. The infection progresses quickly (think hours) and decays the flesh like gangrene. It's spread through contact with open wounds and the treatment is antibiotics and/or amputation. Necrotizing fasciitis doesn't typically affect healthy people, however, a mutated form with increased antibiotic resistance would be dangerous to healthy people especially if introduced directly into the bloodstream through a bite for example.

Mucormycosis (a fungus) is also pretty cool for the purpose of zombie scenarios, because it affects the brain and skull and can be spread after natural disasters. Amputation of affected areas or removal of the brain is a potential treatment as well.

What would be cool - well not cool - but there are some bacteria right now that have the ability to pass their antibiotic resistant genes onto other microorganisms that aren't even in their same family, kind of like a bacterium giving another bacterium an infection. Except, that infection actually helps the other bacteria become stronger.

Maybe a MRSA strain gives its resistance to Mucormycosis, and kind of symbiotically hitches a ride on the spores. Then, a series of hurricanes/tornadoes/floods creates a perfect breeding ground for the two microorganisms. As in the answer above, healthy people are usually able to fight off infections, however, susceptible people could be initially infected from the natural disaster fallout. Because the bacteria/fungus duo is super-resistant and less lethal, it spreads quickly as infected peoples' slowly-decaying brains cause them to lash out violently, creating cuts/wounds in others. After the initial natural-disaster-caused infection of susceptible populations, most of the transmission would be from zombie to human, instead of from mud/dirt to human.

I think you'd have to reconcile that the disease wouldn't make the zombies immortal, fast, or super strong. Also, the disease could be spread through infected dirt as well as from a bite.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Treating by "removing the brain" seems, um, a little, ah, unconventional, perhaps? $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Sep 4 '16 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ Removing /part/ of the brain. Unconventional, yes, but you tell I either have to remove part of my brain or die of a fungal infection, I know which one I'd choose. Anyway, brains are pretty amazing and many people survive and recover after losing part of their brain. $\endgroup$ – Daniel M Sep 4 '16 at 23:49
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "Removing the brain" is the recommended treatment of the Zombie disease. Of course the treatment is usually given with a 12 gauge shotgun, sword or other weapon.... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 5 '16 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly which is why the mucormycosis/MRSA theory works though I am biased $\endgroup$ – Daniel M Sep 5 '16 at 1:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.