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A zombie outbreak is disastrous, but what if a zombie is curable?

Let's say:

  1. It is the traditional slow movement zombie and has a tendency to attack living people. A zombie has similar strength of a normal human, but is immune to electric shock and anaesthetic drugs.

  2. The virus has a latent period, and therefore was spread all over the world before the outbreak. The virus has mutated afterwards, so now a bite from a zombie will immediately turn victims into a zombie.

  3. A cure is not possible if a zombie is infected for too long. The exact time varies with many factors, including how healthy the person was, and the environment. This period can be from a few days to a few months.

  4. To cure a zombie, it needs to be immersed into a special liquid for around 24 hours. So it needs to be captured alive without damaging the body. The liquid is not expensive, the difficulty mainly comes from catching a zombie.

  5. Even if a zombie is curable, it depends on how long the infection is, there may be a certain degree of damage to the brain, the liver and the kidneys. Taking care of a cured zombie will be a burden to the surviving community, but there is a high chance to become completely healthy with good care after 2-3 years.

Within this scenario, will it be more or less disastrous?

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    $\begingroup$ The premise is very interesting, but the question could use a bit more refining. What do you mean by disastrous? Are you looking at the continued existence of humans, ability of society to keep running or at the personal level? $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Dec 4 '17 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe Sapiens Sapiens was Neanderthal's zombie. $\endgroup$ – qq jkztd Dec 4 '17 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ Are unzombified imune to the bite? It will grant them a workplace in the rising zombie control market $\endgroup$ – jean Dec 4 '17 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Your "mutation" bit makes no sense. Things don't "mutate" everywhere at once. $\endgroup$ – Yakk Dec 4 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Can you just drop them into a 5' swimming pool of liquid, or do they each need to be in their own emersion? Is the emersion safe for non-zombies? What happens if someone can't be restored? Do they just die in the emersion? $\endgroup$ – cwallenpoole Dec 4 '17 at 16:56

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Part of the answer depends on what you call 'disastrous'. Economically, a zombie outbreak (curable or not) would result in complete collapse of the global economy as production would essentially grind to a halt. This in turn would create a massive famine as most of the people on the planet are a long way from food production and cities in particular in this scenario should be considered lost as the higher population density means the 'disease' spreads faster and getting resources to high population areas is now next to impossible. This puts us essentially in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

While you say the curing liquid is easy to manufacture, as we've already established this assumes a functioning power grid, a paid, un-hungry workforce who feel secure turning up for work every day; I think you'll find it's actually a lot harder than you think.

Add to that the fact that every person you turn back from zombiedom needs an intensive care regime and (even more importantly) food before becoming an effective member of the community once more. That puts a limit on the number that you can turn back within a given period to a percentage of the surviving (and organised population). Also, one has to assume that it's FAR cheaper to just kill zombies rather than cure them. It's safer, less of a drain on resources for an already struggling community of survivors and doesn't involve complicated traps for collection and curing over time.

The important point here is that what we call civilisation is a far more fragile construct than you might think. Maslow's hierarchy of needs dictates that in such a scenario, your own survival (and the survival of your group) takes precedence over other concerns. This means hoarding food and food production capabilities, establishing a 'safe' perimeter around your sheltered area, and ensuring that everyone contributes to your new community. That means returning to clan based resource collection and management and precludes things like conventional jobs, including medicine (which is now almost impossible to get anyway). That means that threats have to be eliminated (not rehabilitated) in order to protect your clan.

To conclude, a cure would be almost irrelevant. The chances of society as we understand it surviving such an apocalypse is almost zero and the ability (to say nothing of the will) of the new clan based structures that would appear in regional areas to engage in rehabilitation activities would be even less. A cure just isn't practical given how precious essential resources become in this world.

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    $\begingroup$ It would have one major effect. People bitten by zombies would be constrained immediately and shipped to soak ASAP. People fighting zombies would probably already wear convenient and sturdy clothes that has the necessary attachments to immobilize them almost instantly. Reasonably people could bind themselves within few seconds with properly designed equipment. Certainly everyone would carry something to quickly bind others if necessary. If the infected is carried to treatment ASAP recovery should be complete and fast (read: cheap), no? This would boost defense. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Dec 4 '17 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very good point; militarily, it would be less disastrous. This would also (theoretically at least) encourage cooperation between different 'clans' to engage in larger scale organised attacks if one group has the bath and the other doesn't as being bitten isn't necessarily a death sentence. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Dec 4 '17 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ This point of view is really cynical and mainly. I think cost of the cure will seem ridiculous to the one who can save family or friends. People may endanger themselves to save people and it may make the plague even more dangerous $\endgroup$ – Cailloumax Dec 4 '17 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ If zombie is curable, it's probably not that easy any more to "just shoot them because it's cheaper". Just imagine the moral problem and all the protests. $\endgroup$ – Herr Derb Dec 5 '17 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @HerrDerb I think the moral problem falls away if we're already in an apocalypse style scenario. Those who have trouble taking out Zombies will probably be the first to go regardless of whether the Zombies are curable or not - and it's a global outbreak, so no countries "moral people" remain unaffected while finding this cure. Tbh, as this answer explains, the idea of anybody even working out there's a "24 hour liquid immersion cure" is the most unrealistic thing described. $\endgroup$ – Philbo Dec 5 '17 at 15:24
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Although I agree with everything in TimB's excellent answer, I also see tremendous story telling value in your curable zombie plague. And the answer to your question resides in the stories which can be told in such a zombie infested world.

...but before we explore those stories, let's modify your zombie virus just a little bit more. Your zombies can't want to eat brains. If they do, then almost everyone who is bitten will also be at least partially eaten; and partially eaten people aren't likely candidates for the cure. So instead of hunger, your zombies need to be driven by a desire to spread the virus. Once they successfully bite a person and thereby contaminate them, they loose interest in that victim and move on to other targets. This may sound a little unbelievable at first, but keep in mind that you are writing a zombie story. Believability is not a major criteria in that genre.

Okay, so what can characters do in a world with curable zombies?

  • They can hunt for skill and talents. They can go into zombie infested territories and capture doctor-zombies or electrician-zombies, or whatever skill sets their survivalist community needs. Once cured, the ex-zombies can train healthy survivors in their trades while they wait to fully recover.
  • They can grow an army of survivors. A small group of survivors, trapped in a well-fortified and provisioned building with at least one vat of cure fluid, can capture and cure one or more zombies a day. These "recruits" would need a year or so to return to full strength, but if they are chosen carefully from the available zombie hordes, they will be fit and skillful soldiers once they are back on their feet. This turns the zombie genre upside down with the good guy groups growing rather than atrophying away.
  • They can find the source of the virus. In many zombie stories the author has to use unbelievable levels of circumstance and unlikely reveals to share their cool virus origin story with the readers. With a curable virus, that wouldn't be necessary. The initial characters could trace the virus back to patient zero by capturing a zombie, curing it and then asking the ex-zombie who bit them. That biter then becomes the target for the next zombie capture. Repeat this often enough and you will eventually lead your characters back to the secret military laboratory where the alien remains got eaten by the captured abominable snowman during the unprecedented solar flare storm... They won't be able to undo the damage, but atleast they (and your readers) will know.
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    $\begingroup$ The first point is excellent idea, but I think that in the second and third point you don't take into account that the zombies are not curable if they are zombies for too long. $\endgroup$ – Artholl Dec 4 '17 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Find the zombie who bit them" what? "So the zombie was missing an arm and had a grateful dead t-shirt on? Ok, start processing the million zombies in the area" $\endgroup$ – Yakk Dec 4 '17 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think the survivors might have better things to do than trace the source of the virus. Also, the real problem that authors have is that the zombie apocalypse is itself highly implausible, and it is difficult to explain exactly how it happens when the 'rabies apocalypse' has not happened in the real world or even come close. $\endgroup$ – James Hollis Dec 4 '17 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Who bit you?" - "The 'ell if I know... I was kinda' busy screaming and running." - "Well, what did they look like?" - "Uh... a rotting corpse." $\endgroup$ – OhBeWise Dec 5 '17 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ What is isn't zombies but some type of mental illness which makes the 'zombies' want to attack people. This gives a whole lot of variability in how the 'zombies' could act. Similar to the maze runner series of books. $\endgroup$ – user30646 Dec 5 '17 at 22:15
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The answer to your question is largely dependent on when in the timeline of the outbreak the cure is discovered, and how quickly the zombie virus spreads.

Slow Burn

If the outbreak starts off slowly, appearing first in some isolated parts of the world, authorities in more developed countries may have the time to organize themselves successfully. In this scenario their plans for tackling the outbreak will revolve around saving as many people as possible.

Zombies would probably be shot if a large mob of them threatens an area, however individuals, or small groups could be tackled by well armored, and specifically equipped personnel. Even then, the logical solution would be to shoot first, and deal with the grieving families later, rather than risk more lives.

However, politicians and policy makers may cave to demands made by well meaning, but ultimately ignorant voters claiming that Zombie Lives Matter! The fact that a cure exists has the most likelihood of being a "disastrous" complication in this scenario.

Imagine a country which is struggling to contain a zombie outbreak. The government, under pressure from the mobs, and hoping for reelection, may implement ineffective, and ultimately deadly, rules of engagement, which lead to complete devastation. For example, a police officer may shoot a newly infected zombie, and find himself arrested for murder!

Soon enough officers would be allowing zombies to tear into family members, or bystanders, too afraid of the consequences to defend themselves and others. This would quickly lead to an apocalyptic scenario where the government completely loses control, and people are left to fend for themselves.

Military units may start operating under the local authority and leadership of more rational politicians, or even rebel against the clueless civilian leadership, and only obey their ranking officers. This is the scenario under which a country is most likely to end up breaking into isolated city states. Survivors who don't trust the "higher ups", because they cocked the entire defense of the country up.

These pockets of survivors may end up treating some of their own bitten members, however few, if any, will have the resources to rehabilitate a large number of zombies.

Overwhelming Waves of Zombies

If the virus takes the world by storm, and large population centers are lost to hordes of flesh eating zombies, then the response will probably focus on survival, completely ignoring the humanitarian angle. The politicians who would have otherwise tried and implemented brain-dead policies would likely end up zombie bait before the Zombie Lives Matter posters are even printed.

The surviving leadership would likely declare martial law, march out the troops they have available, and lay waste to the hordes of zombies infesting the country in any way they can. An effort would likely still be made to cure key personnel, such as political leaders, scientists, or soldiers - after all, you need those people to win the conflict.

However, your run-of-the-mill zombie civilian would probably be afforded little to no mercy, due to simple economics. After all, a bullet to the brain is much cheaper than the very involved process of curing them, and in this situation resources are going to be tight.

Other Complications?

Another aspect that may or may not come into play is that once it's found out that the virus can be cured, people may go to reckless lengths to try and contain bitten loved ones, possibly with disastrous consequences.

For example, imagine a situation where soldiers declare an area clear, however someone locked up their entire infected family in a garden shed. At one point those infected may break out, causing another outbreak when those zombies wreak havoc in the neighborhood.

Or even worse, imagine a family member hopeful of curing his infected relatives shooting a soldier, or police officer who wants to put them down.


Down-voter, please explain thyself.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bullet equals ten cents... that has got to be the cheapest option... $\endgroup$ – user30646 Dec 5 '17 at 22:17
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One major problem here is this:

In a traditional zombie outbreak, when family/friends are bitten and turned, that's it - you have to kill them. That's often hard enough for the characters.. but if there is a possibility of a cure, then people will try and restrain their 'turned' loved ones; a much riskier proposition.

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    $\begingroup$ And what happens when people who don't know about/trust the cure (I can't trust vaccines... they caused autism and probably the zombie virus. I'm going to trust your "cure"? Uh huh.)... What happens when they kill your "curable" zombie husband/wife/children/...? You are protecting the zombies? You're no longer my friend... Prepare to die. $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Dec 4 '17 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ +1. When a kid gets zombified in this scenario, a parent will do pretty much anything to get them back fast and in one piece. We're talking "charge into the horde armed with a stick" levels of insanity. $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Dec 6 '17 at 12:07
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Mind Games

Lots of good answers to this one, here's another spin, what about the psychological affects ?

Your zombie survivors have, literally, been to hell and back. They've probably done unspeakable things that are complete anathema to their previous life, and now they've got to live with those memories. All the survivors will be on suicide watch for the rest of their lives.

The knock on effects for the rest of the societies will be profound. Organised religions will collapse, people have seen what happens when you die and it ain't angels,clouds and vestal virgins.

Organised religion underpins the rule of law in a lot of places on Earth, when the law collapses then that society is pretty much off the world stage until its restored.

A sort race wide depression will settle in, why bring kids into a world with horrors like this ? And not just societal horrors, but fundamental what_is-the-point-of-life kind of horrors. We know there's no afterlife so what is there to look forward to ? What's the point ?

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    $\begingroup$ A plus 1 for you. However, if the un-zombies remember their time as zombies, then it seems likely that the general public will rationalize it as "they never went to to whatever afterlife may or may not await, but were trapped in their decaying husk of a body for the duration." The afterlife meme is one of the most powerful in existence. $\endgroup$ – No Name Dec 4 '17 at 22:03
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this scenario has a lot potential, firstly you're trading 'fast' catastrophe for 'slow' (pun intended) catastrophe, the Zombie outbreak couldn't have happened overnight, or in a week, or even a month, Scientists would have needed time to develop and test your cure, then set up with engineers and logistics for manufacturing for mass production/dispersal. Patient Zero would likely been known from go, and spread of Zombification would be slower anywhere there was a strong military or medical presence, preserving most cities... for a time..

Let's assume for brevity's sake that immunization by pre-bite soak was possible and would be a requirement for all EMS/Police/Doctors/Nurses and most Military personnel/Scientists, this gives society as a whole a stronger initial resistance and core group to work to fight the impending horde. This, combined with the easy availability of the cure bath would also insure that immunization was readily available to the public, but I'm not going to assume that the immunization works for everyone, or at all (in real life immunization shots can go wrong, either by being ineffective or, at worst causing the complication it was supposed to defend against.)

Your major vector for spread would be those in outlying communities or those not well connected to the developed world. Which can be it's own source for interesting story elements, such as some armies using zombies as free, easily deployed disposable soldiers. But I digress.

Let's look at the flip-side of this and take the mad-scientist approach. There's a game that takes this exact concept and runs with it through various scenarios, it's called Plague Inc (http://www.ndemiccreations.com/en/22-plague-inc), which has you, the player in control of engineering one of many various types of pathogens, one of which is a zombification scenario, if there's a single person or small group responsible for the outbreak, who have control of the 'switch' that starts the zombification process then you're looking at a race against time and a malefactor hell-bent on destroying society, this could crop up as new strains of zombies resistant/immune to the established treatment and can therefore become a MUCH worse condition for societies' survival.

To directly answer your question, No matter which way you slice this, society will most likely NEVER recover 100% and will always be scarred by the zombie outbreak, internation trade will almost immediately grind to a dead halt and people will undoubtedly become more seclusive and paranoid of everyone around them, rather or not the rational thing to do is work together, some people will always take the route of easy self-preservation over banding together causing perhaps more mayhem and pandemonium than the zombies themselves.

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Depending on what you mean by ‘disastrous’, incurable zombies could be the less disastrous option. The outbreak itself would be socially/economically/psychologically disastrous, in that it would polarise humans vs zombies, but maybe zombiehood is the way forward. For example:

1. Given their slow movement, zombies require considerably less sustenance, and are less of a drain on the world’s resources.

2. Becoming a zombie is basically a cure for any other disease - you’ll only die of old age, unfortunate accident, or angry human.

3. Zombies are united in their desire to attack humans, so their society is founded on a unifying idea. Unlike humans, who are prone to dissent and violent disagreement, zombies are pretty chill.

4. I’m not sure how the zombie economy works, but they seem to be the kind of creatures who get stuff done as/when they need to, and don’t have to worry about stock market crashes, etc.

Working on the assumption that zombies can’t reproduce, they’d need to allow a few pet humans to survive and be surrogate ‘parents’ - a small number of humans can survive and continue breeding, but the rest of the children can be zombified. And they probably wouldn’t need to worry about a limited gene pool, because genetic diseases wouldn’t be overly important once you’re a zombie.

Equally, it depends what the zombies’ motivation in “life” is. If it’s just to catch humans, then once they’ve all been converted, they wouldn’t have a drive any more. Generation Z would live out their ‘lives’, and gradually all decompose. Then the earth would be rid of humanity, and other species might get half a chance. Ecologically speaking, full Zombie Apocalypse could be the least disastrous thing...

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People are likely to either lie about the cure or try some way to scale the cure up to work on whole populations via misting or some other shenanigans. From a logistic standpoint I doubt the government actually has the ability to treat an entire population. From a "Walking Dead" survivor type setting, I doubt that people would be treated unless their group cared about them. Once treated I don't really see that much difficulty in caring for people with issues from the treatment. In order to leave people in tubs safely you have to have a certain degree of control over your land. With that in mind curing people safely seems to be rather low risk. Taking care of them afterwards seems to be low risk as well. Just make sure they aren't fighters and they should be fine in a recovery program.

This is one of those things that sounds like it should raise a bunch of questions that will pit wills, ethics, and morals against each other, but the setting ,the resources that your group controls along with your groups security, answers every question by itself with near ultimate authority. The real struggle will be watching your characters be stupid about this.

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In every scenario you can come up for a zombie outbreak, a cure would make it less disastrous. And if the cure wouldn't help, you can just ignore it.

  • You could heal necessary personal, like doctors.
  • You could heal your loved ones.
  • You could heal the fighters who just saved your ass.

Only psychological and ethical problems would be bigger. Since you should save everyone and shouldn't shoot every zombie.

For the mutation, not every zombie would have it. But most, since zombies with that mutation would reproduce faster.

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Yes of course it could be more disastrous. People could start fighting amongst themselves about whether to spend the little energy, food and resources they have to try and save zombies or to kill them.

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protected by HDE 226868 Dec 6 '17 at 20:37

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