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)

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