One of the biggest problems facing anybody in a zombie scenario is that there are so many unknowns. This is exacerbated by the fact that so many people are planning for the inevitable based on what they’ve learned from works of fiction. For instance, how do zombies make other zombies? By biting, right? And how do you know? Because that’s the way it is in all the zombie movies and video games.
Well survivor, that shit ain’t science. The whole point of evolution, whether it’s evolution of mammals or viruses, is that lifeforms adapt. There are certainly diseases that are more successful than others because of they way they transmit. Herpes is more widespread than rabies because biting is a generally crappy way to spread a disease, while lots of people have sex. The common cold infects pretty much everybody every year because it is transmitted through the air or by contaminated surfaces, it doesn’t even care if you’re having sex with someone like herpes does.
What this means is that the zombie virus is far more likely to be spread via the means of avian flu than by the means of rabies. So how does this change your plans? Once again, like with nuclear reactors, just because you don’t see any zombies doesn’t mean you’ll be safe. Do you ever see those full suits the CDC wears when they’re in an area with an outbreak of some new disease? You know – the ones that cover their whole bodies with an air-filtering helmet reminiscent of Darth Vader? That’s because the virus could be in the air or on the handrail they just touched.
So what happens even if Johnny C. Rambo-Wannabe successfully takes to the streets and manages a head shot on every corpse in a mile radius? If it’s summer and he has bare arms, he might’ve just exposed himself to the disease.
Or what happens when panicky people run into a building before it gets boarded up by survivors unaware that most diseases have an incubation period of a few days before symptoms begin to present themselves? The survivors would’ve essentially locked themselves into a time bomb while the people they were attempting to save have a few days to unknowingly contaminate every surface in the safe house.
So what steps can you take if zombies don’t spread in the fashion assumed in sci-fi?
Rule #1: Nobody new comes in.
If you’re smart, the moment you saw the incident on the news you sealed off some area in which to hunker down. Maybe you didn’t board up your house (which is more time consuming and less effective than you might think), but maybe you destroyed the staircase to the upstairs and made your refuge on the second floor. As soon as you’re safe, don’t let anybody new inside unless you’re willing to die for them – because that may wind up being the case. If you have an airborne pathogen as a threat, introducing new vectors to your immediate environment is about the worst thing you can do.
Rule #2: Don’t neglect hygiene.
It runs contra to the image of the post-apocalyptic survivor with tattered clothes and dirt smudged everywhere, but stay clean. Stock up on anti-bacterial soap and hand santizers, use them constantly in the days following the outbreak. If you’re on the move and you pass a grocery store, count on it to be looted of the food – but the soap will probably be untouched. Grab it.
Important habits to break include rubbing your eyes (which most people do hundreds of times each day without noticing) and biting your nails.
Rule #3: Stay isolated as long as possible.
I know it’s impossible to stay hunkered down forever, but do it as long as you can. It’s hard to know, even in an area that has had the zombies cleaned out, exactly how long various surfaces will be contaminated. The flu can live outside the human body, on average, for about 48 hours. However, certain things can augment that window like temperature (cold extends the duration) and the type of surfaces around. Solid surfaces like steel and plastic are more welcoming to diseases than soft surfaces like wool.
Alright, I’m off mount a crowbar and baseball bat holster on my bicycle. See all you survivors next time.