Could Zombies Help Us During An Infectious Disease Outbreak?

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zombiesZombies are enjoying a recent surge in popularity, but our interest in them spans centuries. Their origins trace back to the folklore of tribes in Western Africa. Can our current interest in zombies be used to educate about public health infrastructure and the spread of infectious disease? Melissa Nasiruddin, Monique Halabi, Alexander Dao, Kyle Chen, and Brandon Brown of the University of California, Irvine think so as they explain in the paper, Zombies—A Pop Culture Resource for Public Health Awareness.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has done just that. After the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan they started a disaster forum on Twitter where they asked the public what types of emergencies they were prepared for and how they prepared. Some people indicated they were interested in preparation for a zombie attack. Although the responses were probably meant to be facetious, Dr. Alin S. Khan took hold of the opportunity to use zombies as a hook to draw in readers and wrote a column on the CDC’s Public Health Matters blog. The article focused on how to best prepare for a zombie apocalypse and by extension, any other type of disaster.

The popularity of this article inspired Daniel O’ Connor of Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics to write an article on the ethics of zombie killing in the face of a zombie infestation. He discussed such as issues as when does a human become a zombie, how to kill a zombie in a morally acceptable manner, how to minimize the risk-benefit ratio for as many people as possible when devising ways to fight zombies, and the importance of community engagement. These types of bioethical guidelines are important when fighting the spread of many diseases or preparing for disasters. O’Connor’s article stresses the need to maintain guidelines and standards of public health in the event of a pandemic event.

The authors of the paper mentioned above, advocate continuing the use of zombies to educate the population about public health issues, using a wide variety of media including, printed media, public service announcements, interactive games, computer programs, smartphone apps, blogs, and internet interest groups. They write, “We propose continuing these efforts, building on the popularity of zombies to increase public health awareness in the general public, and explore additional issues that may have not been considered in the past, such as infection control, mental health issues, ethics of disease, and bioterrorism potential.”

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