Zombie Humans: Now in the news

Hot on the heels of my last Zombie Ants update, one of the most significant Google search trends for early June 2012 is “Zombie Apocalypse.”  This has been in response to several high profile news items over the past few weeks, including the curious case of Rudy Eugene, who was shot multiple times by responding police officers as he was caught eating the face of his victim. The graphic nature of the attack and the intense media coverage has led to speculation that an illicit drug known as “bath salts” was responsible for Eugene’s behavior, however toxicology results have not been completed yet.

Mephedrone, or “bath salts”, is a synthetic stimulant of the amphetamine class of drugs. As an analog of other illegal stimulants in the United States, it is also considered illegal for use. The drug produces a variety of effects when taken, and is a powerful stimulant. A number of deaths have been noted worldwide due to consumption of mephedrone. Misrepresentative labeling of mephedrone containing compounds has led to their relatively easy access currently in the US and elsewhere. The labeling of mephedrone as “bath salts” is one way for producers of the compound to skirt legality.

So what about zombies? The Centers for Disease Control put up a blog entry in May 2011, which gave very good information describing how Americans could best prepare themselves in case of a serious natural disaster. The website included several excellent recommendations including: a source of clean water (1 gallon per person per day), non-perishable food, a supply of prescription and non-prescription medicines, and a small toolbox with useful supplies like a utility knife, duct tape, and a battery powered radio. The website was designed with preparing citizens for disasters such as “tornadoes and hurricanes,” however the site had the tongue-in-cheek title “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.”

This well meaning intention has had the unfortunate effect of making it seem that the CDC has had realistic concerns about the feasibility of zombies, and that somehow the spate of recent news stories somehow has a basis with fictional zombies. In response, the CDC has had to come out on record with the statement that the

CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)

So rest assured, if you get attacked by your roommate, they are likely not really a zombie. Stephen Colbert, however, thinks otherwise!

BONUS TIME!  List in the comment thread an actual infectious disease that can modify the behavior of humans!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on June 9, 2012, in Bonus!, Braaaains!, Strange but True, Yikes!. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I must admit, and please don’t think less of my Dr. S, that I was almost excited when I saw this report, and of course disgusted; but you know my feelings on Zombies…lol. I do think it is drug related. It reminds me of police reports facing people high on PCP who have almost super human strength and have no idea what they are doing. The problem with our war on illegal drugs such as this is it takes incidence such as this to bring it to the public’s attention and now we are already to this point where people are eating other people’s faces! I would hope that these reports serve as a cautionary tale and people stay away from “bath salts”, however we know that won’t be the case for everyone.

    • I’ve decided that this epidemic is not really the result of drugs, but instead due to media overexposure. I cite the Colbert Report bit as evidence to support my argument.

      Still pretty sad that the CDC is needing to come out and state the obvious.

      PS: Lynn just moved into the Top Six of the commenters!

  2. Well, to start the ball rolling, here’s one that I put on the blog a few months ago: Toxoplasma gondii infection in men has been shown in preliminary experiments to be associated with introverted and suspicious behavior, but has the opposite effect in women.

  3. Syphilis is an infectious disease that, in it’s latent stage, can affect a person’s mental state, causing dementia and deteriorated thought processes.

  4. Amanda Flaharty

    From experience in the assisted living workplace Urinary tract infections usually cause the elderly to become increasingly confused or not act quite themselves.

    • I’m pondering the benefit to the microbe with this scenario; does it cause people to urinate inappropriately, thus causing spread of the microbe?

  5. Toxoplasmosis is an actual disease that can change behavior in humans. It occurs by accidentally swallowing a cat feces from a Toxoplasma-infected cat that is shedding. It could happen if you accidentally touch hands to your mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat’s litter box, or touching anything that has come in contact with the cat feces. There are also other ways to get this disease from eating contaminated raw or partly cooked meat, etc. It results in mental and behavioral changes.

  6. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a type of brain damage causing a quick decrease in metal function, and is always fatal. Many times the disease is confused with dementia but it is not related because. ” Mad Cow Disease” is related to the varied form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

  7. Toxacora infection can cause behavorial changes. Its caused by Taxacora (roundworm) found in dogs and cats.

  8. Toxoplasma gondii! It effects about 40% of the worlds population. It is known to be extremely dangerous to pregnant women that can cause a still birth or disabled infant. Men that are infected are said to have negative affects like lower IQ, shorter attention span, antisocial, more likely to break the rules, etc. While women are more likely to have more positive effects like more outgoing, friendlier, promiscuous, etc.

    • Did I not say Toxoplasma gondii up above, with my link to my very amusing blog posting from several months ago, detailing a scientific study on this very subject?

  9. Lyme disease can affect human’s speech, sleep, memory and mood.

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