Monday, 21 March 2011

Don’t let Zombie’s cost you an arm and a leg

Fit like Zombiology Students,

I was asked a wonderful question by a pupil at Cleveden Secondary in Glasgow, (note: there was also a cream cake & tablet, affa fine like.), her question was: would amputating a limb after a zombie bite prevent infection?
Amputation in this case would definitely make me the head of the Institute...ho, ho!
Regular students will know we believe the most likely cause of zombies will be a prion disease. But to answer this question we will look at both a potential zombie virus and a zombie prion.

Viruses come in many shapes and sizes. The majority of viruses can be transported round the body in the blood. The red stuff takes around a minute to make a full circuit back to the heart. If your body is undergoing strenuous activity, like fighting off a zombie, the blood would be flowing even faster. Only Bruce Campbell with his chainsaw arm could hope to amputate himself quick enough to prevent infection.
Removing the arm certainly didn't work for poor old Barbara
A rare exception is Rabies where it probably would work.  Rabies travels to the brain along nerves instead of in the blood and this is a much slower process. During an experiment in 1972 mice were injected in the back foot with the Rabies virus. Like humans mice take around three months to succumb to the disease. It was found that amputation of the injected feet up to 18 days after infection was a life saving procedure.

So depending on what type of virus Zombieism was amputation might be an option. But when it comes to rogues prions the situation is somewhat more complex.

Rogue prions are still mysterious creatures to us scientists. There is still debate as to exactly how rogue prions enter the body through digestion and wounds. See the previous blog: Infectious Prions & the Mad Munchies for more on that. 

Dr. Katie White ZITS BSc PhD
One theory suggested by our resident researcher Dr Katie White was: “particular immune system cells might engulf them and then the prions 'replicate' in these, finally the prions spread along nerves to reach the brain.  It’s not thought that they just get into the blood and travel round the body in the circulation.  So I think if there were prions in the saliva of a zombie that bit someone, the transfer of the prions to the brain is going to be fairly slow and inefficient, so yes if you cut off the limb quick enough you would probably be saved from Zombieism.”

To get more a more specific time frame on amputation in this case Dr Kevin O’Dell describes the scientific process:
Dr. Kevin O'Dell ZITS

“It presumably depends on a combination of at least three factors:

A, the rate of spread of the zombie prion within the body (in cm/hour)
B, the quantity of rogue prions entering the wound (measured in prion particles)
C, the position of the bite on the limb (measured in cm as the distance from the bite to the point of severement)

Statistical Zombiologists would use a process called 'statistics' to resolve this issue.

But basically if A and B are large and C is small then removal of a limb is gratuitous.”

Unfortunately the Institute does not have a Statistical Zombiologist on staff. Nor in fact do we know of there ever having been such an academic. If you’re a Statistical Zombiologist or have your own abacus do get in touch.

So the answer to today’s question, would amputating a limb after a zombie bite prevent infection, is both yes and no. It depends on how the Zombieism is being spread. If it is something fast moving that goes via the blood stream it is unlikely you can amputate in time. However if it’s a slow creeper like Rabies then you can hack off at a leisurely pace.

It just goes to show once again than in the fight against Zombieism knowledge really can save your life. And stop you from making a limbless fool of yourself in front of your friends.

Many thanks to Dr Katie White & Dr Kevin O’Dell for their contributions to today’s ZomBlog.

Some exciting news this week. Zombie Science 1Z - The Textbook has now been released and is available to purchase online at Amazon, get your copy today. 

For those wishing to enrol in Zombie Science 1Z in the Glasgow area there are still three possible lectures to go to, details below.

Keep up your studies now students,

Doctor Austin

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen

Glasgow International Comedy Festival:
Thursday’s 24th, 31st March & 7th April 2011
Qudos at QMU, 22 University Gardens, Glasgow
Show: 2000 (8pm) Tickets: £5/3 Age 18+


G.M. Baer, W.F. Cleary: Model in Mice of the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Rabies – The Journal of Infectious Diseases (1972)

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Carry on Zombie

Hello Zombiology Students,

Aside from falling off the pier my trip to Brighton for their science festival last weekend was a resounding success. Whilst chatting to some students at the end I was asked an interesting question, could people be carriers of Zombieism but not show symptoms.

The term for someone who carries an infectious disease but displays none of the symptoms is an asymptomatic carrier. Here at the Institute we believe that zombies are most likely going to come about as the result of a prion disease similar to mad cow disease (vCJD). So it makes sense to use vCJD here as a comparison. It is assumed that any population exposed to mad cow tainted meat will have a collection of asymptomatic carriers. This is because prion diseases have a long incubation period (usually many years) thus anyone infected but not developing clinical signs could be a ‘permanent asymptomatic carrier’.

Can these human carriers then go on to infect others unknowingly? Not unless we’re eating their brains. Prion disease is presently not spread through the air or fluid contact. To catch Prion Zombieism we must either: eat an infected meat product, touch infected organs (mainly brain) then an open wound/sore or receive a blood transfusion from a prion zombie.

If you’re not a cannibal it’s probably only the blood transfusions you need to look out for. Thankfully there may be a new development that will help us out with that. Prof John Collinge, with the support of the National Prion Clinic has developed an almost 100% accurate blood test for vCJD. It still requires refinement but it estimates perhaps 1 in 4000 will test positive. The next question will be how many will go on to develop the disease.

From a Zombieism perspective this test should be adaptable for our uses and might allow us to identify carriers from the outset. However we believe the initial source will be animal that will then be eaten by a human. This test might be a new tool for the Noah Project that is currently working to find possible zombie animals.

So the answer to today’s question, ‘can people be carriers of prion Zombieism without realising it’ is a firm yes. But, these people are highly unlikely to infect others.

Stay vigilant Zombiology Students and if you’re in the Newcastle area pop down tomorrow evening to my lecture on the Tyneside Cinema, 8pm. If you’re not in Newcastle other lecture dates are below.

Doctor Austin

Newcastle Science Festival:
Zombie Science 1Z & Night of the Living Dead Film Combo
Monday 14th March 2011
Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle
Show: 2000 (8pm) Tickets: £7.70/6.60 Age 18+
Book tickets via Tyneside Cinema Box Office 0845 217 9909

Glasgow International Comedy Festival:
Thursday’s 17th, 24th, 31st March & 7th April 2011
Qudos at QMU, 22 University Gardens, Glasgow
Show: 2000 (8pm) Tickets: £5/3 Age 18+

Edinburgh International Science Festival:
Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th April 2011
The Storytelling Centre, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
Show: 1600 (4pm) Tickets: £4 Age 15+

ScareCON 2011
Thursday 12th May 2011
Village Hotel Dudley, Castlegate Park, Birmingham Road, Dudley, DY1 4TB
This is an all day event with Doctor Austin on hand to sign books, answer questions and teach Zombie Combat skills. It will be topped off with a 60 minute early evening lecture.

Doctor Austin ZITS BSz MSz DPep is head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies and Zombiologist Royal to Her Majesty the Queen