Need proof that a zombie apocalypse is a real thing and one may be just around the corner? Need proof that you can get research money for just about anything? You can find both of those at Arizona State University in the office of theoretical evolutionary biologist Athena Aktipis. She is the chair of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting, host of the new podcast called Zombified and is predicting that a zombie apocalypse may be coming soon because half of all creatures on planet Earth are parasites --- the major cause of zombies.
“We define a zombie as an entity that is fully or partially under the control of another entity. This includes host-parasite interactions, autonomous technology, and coercion/control in human interactions. These dynamics - where one entity controls another - can lead to unanticipated biological, technological and social consequences.”
In a recent interview with AFP, Dr. Aktipis identifies a single-celled parasite that infects around 40 million Americans and has been known to affect human behavior by infecting the brain in areas that control risk-taking and aggression – two traits of zombies. Aktipis is so concerned about a zombie apocalypse and how to treat victims that she held the first Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance (ZAMA) in 2018 and has another scheduled in 2020. Yes, she’s serious.
“The Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance (ZAMA) is committed to providing a positive and respectful environment for humans, zombies and all other monsters. This means creating and maintaining an environment at the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM) that is free of coercion, discrimination, cannibalism, harassment and any other non-consensual zombification dynamics.”
Aktipis wants us to ignore the gory, brain-eating, entertaining aspects of movie and TV zombies and focus on the fact that ants can be turned into zombies by a parasitic fungus, wasps can be turned into zombies by parasitic wasps and we humans don’t have any real protection from similar zombie parasites already in our bodies … or waiting to creep in when we least expect them to. For example, Toxoplasma gondii – the single-cell parasite living in 40 million Americans – gets into the system via undercooked meat and dirty litter boxes. (I’ll never look at an Internet kitten pic the same way again.)
Living parasites aren’t the only cause of human zombies. Aktipis also warns that a person can be controlled that which seems to be the cause of all of our problems -- the media and its main delivery mechanism, the smartphone. The focus of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance preventing all forms of control by outside forces through various medical and psychological means.
“Zombie Apocalypse Medicine (ZAM) is a theoretically grounded approach to understanding and treating disease in extreme conditions. These conditions include post-disaster environments, challenging ecological settings such as high altitude and extreme cold, social conditions characterized by mind control and manipulation and scenarios characterized by highly contagious infectious disease. ZAM employs theoretical frameworks including genetic conflict theory, game theory, evolutionary theory, and adaptationism in order to understand how humans and other species have evolved to counter both the physical challenges of apocalyptic conditions and psychological challenges of zombie mind control.”
While all of that sounds sophisticated and futuristic, Aktipis warns that disasters, highly contagious infections and mind control are already here and can easily reach zombification levels. That's why she created the Zombified podcast.
"Have you been zombified? Is something taking over your brain? Zombified is a new podcast about how we are vulnerable to being hijacked by things that are not us. From microbes hijacking behavior, to humans influencing each other, to our brains being taken over by social media, we talk about why zombification happens, why we are susceptible to it, and what we can do about it. "
Like a good Scout, she gave AFP some other cheap and easy ways to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse.
“She recommends keeping a go-bag of vital supplies like first aid kits, duct tape that can be used to fashion a shoe or a weapon, and whiskey to sterilize water and wounds (or drink if things get really bad).”
Duct tape and whiskey – the universal tool and medication. We shouldn’t be surprised if aliens visiting Earth are carrying them too.