Zombie Pathophysiology: How the Human Body TransformsWe know what zombies look like. We know how zombies behave. We definitely know what zombies like to eat. But how, exactly, do human beings become zombies? What is it about the zombie virus that actually turns a human body into an automated, instinctual, cannibal that sheds itself of its own humanity?
What Does the Virus Do to the Body?What the virus does to the entire human body is a microcosm of what the virus does on a cellular level: it creates chaos. According to most data, the Z-virus is a blood-borne pathogen, which inoculates through direct contact from an infected person’s blood or saliva.
Once bitten, the Z-virus becomes viremic within the host, flooding the bloodstream until it latches onto cell membranes in well-perfused organs such as the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Once the virus has inserted itself into the cell membrane, it releases its proteins and genome to hijack the host cell in order to replicate itself. This process is no different than a virus that causes the common cold.
Where the Z-virus is different is the fundamental change that occurs not just to a single cell, but also to the ecosystem within which those cells live. The various infected tissues cease to coordinate together in order to facilitate meaningful function. Each individual cell becomes rogue, working only in its own interests and uncoupling from the normal assembly-line function of the human body.
Zombies Are Not Entirely DeadZombies are in fact alive; their tissues are simply at war with each other. Each cell and every organ is in constant turmoil, fighting for the resource of human meat. It is no wonder that an infected person loses their humanity and in essence becomes “undead." Their chaotic bodies can no longer thrive and support the creative and unique characteristics of the human mind.
Zombie TransformationsIn my zombie novel, Medora, Dr. Stark observes a radiotracing of human flesh that a zombie ingests into its ruptured stomach:
Stark stared in disbelief... Individual organs were directly absorbing the meat without any digestion by a stomach or any distribution from a pumping blood supply. The chaotic organ systems were literally taking the already existing structure of the fresh human muscle and integrating it into itself. (Medora pg. 82)
We can understand why zombies want to consume human flesh when we understand what the Z-virus has done to the body. When a healthy person eats, the macromolecules are packaged by the digestive tract, shipped to the liver for processing and detoxification and then distributed by the heart to the rest of the body.
The organs of a zombie cannot coordinate in this seamless fashion; rather every individual cell must integrate already existing human tissue into itself without proper processing. This is the fundamental drive of the zombie to eat human flesh.
Wick Welker is an anesthesiologist currently living in Seattle, Washington. His zombie novels, Medora and The Medora Wars are available in Kindle and paperback at Amazon.com. He is currently working on the third installment in the series.