back to article Zombie plague analysed by Canadian maths prof

A Canadian infectious-diseases boffin has published an authoritative mathematical model of zombie plagues. He concludes that the only scenario in which our civilisation could survive a zombie outbreak is one in which normal humans react immediately using extreme violence against the undead, without any attempt to cure or …


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  1. Studley


    "you have no idea what it's like to be entirely invisible on Google"

    I have an idea that adding a question mark won't help. Unless you want to perform some kind of wildcard search. He should've changed his name to Robert Xzvygzax instead.

  2. James Fox


    ... the sort of research that should be encouraged, no, made mandatory. I can only assume that the other guys in Smith?'s team are solving equally pressing questions such as "In a fight between King Kong and Godzilla...."

  3. Gav

    Stop this pussy footing about.

    If you really want to tackle the zombie menace you need to stop pussy footing around.

    Nuke the planet from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

  4. Ham1
    Dead Vulture


    what about the threat from vampires? surely they're a bigger threat - having wings and such

  5. Karim Bourouba
    Paris Hilton

    Thank god for Canada

    If it where not for them, where would we be now...

  6. Apocalypse Later

    Already happening

    Only the plague is socialism.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Good to know.

    It's nice to see that not only is my old University doing something useful, but my natural inclinations on how to react during a zombie apocalypse are correct.

    Well, drink a lot first, THEN start busting heads. I am an engineer, after all.

  8. Lord Raa


    I for one do not welcome any living-impaired, cranium-bothering shufflers attempting to become our overlords.

  9. Hollerith 1

    Ashamed to be a Canadian

    Anyone who legally changes his name to Smith? is clearly a jerk.

    A Smith is only as anonymouse as he or she deserves to be. I cite Will Smith as an example.

    'Smith' is a great name. To quote the historian B. Cottrell, in his book on the derivation of surnames:

    "The smith _smites_, and his honoured name rings down through the centuries like an anvil."

  10. Code Monkey


    If he wanted to step out of fat Bob's shadow he could have gone for Robert Smyth and avoided coming across as a complete bellend. Ah well.

  11. Ralph B

    Don't Stop Me Now

    "the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often..."

    Yeah, I know, with backing music by Queen.

    I'm off down to the Winchester, to have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.

  12. John Bayly

    I knew this ages ago ...

    ... after watching George Romero's insightful series of documentaries into the zombie threat to society. I can't be sure, but I think the first episode was called something like "Living Dead". He'll be glad to hear that is theories have been validated by Prof. Robert Smith?

  13. jai

    have a nice cup of tea and wait for all this to blow over

    time to re-check my survival plan for the Zombie Apocalypse then.

    it's only a matter of time before that ant-zombifying fungus follows swine flu and begins infecting humans

    mines the one on the coat rack beside the door at the Winchester

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "the only scenario in which our civilisation could survive a zombie outbreak is one in which normal humans react immediately using extreme violence against the undead"

    Well......duh...has he never played Left 4 Dead?

  15. John Bayly


    Reading the paper was quite amusing. Any scientific paper that references Simon Pegg deserves a reward: "This may be particularly difficult to do, if identifying such individuals is not obvious"

  16. Pev

    Did you even read World War Z

    "...books such as World War Z, Resident Evil etc. We do quibble slightly at the movies and books themselves, however, which generally underestimate by a long way the sheer amount of violence that even relatively poorly-equipped armed forces are able to bring into play."

    As WWZ points out, to kill a zombie you need to kill the brain. Landmines, just blows the legs off. Automatic weapons, machine guns... you can do a lot of damage but again, unless you get a head shot your not going to stop Mr Z, he'll just keep coming. Even a decapitated head will try and bite your ankles. Nukes? Okay, vapour at ground zero, and burnt to carbon in the fire storm zone but outside that you've still got zombies, radioactive zombies at that. Not a great bang for the buck.

    No, the only cost effective approach is an accurate rifle and a head shot. Sure a cricket bat will work, but do you want to get that close?

  17. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    What a pointless study!

    As we all know, all you need to get rid of zombies (and some humans) is a mob of rednecks. Shown long ago in the Night of the Living Dead.


  18. slow-mo

    No Fear

    No fear if you are a cricketer and know how to use your bat!

    Bring them on!

  19. James 5

    So we're too late....

    ... quarantining the Zombies in Westminster won't work after all.

  20. proto-robbie
    Paris Hilton

    Oh no Captain...

    ...the eigenvalues have all gone negative again, it's going to be one of those episodes.

    Paris 'cos she likes her Markov chains.

  21. GrahamC

    @Apocalypse Later

    With all the eloquence of a drunkard, the American Republican shambles forward...

  22. Hermes (nine inch) Conran

    zombie squirrels

    This research is a good model for the eradication of the red squirrel by those dratted zombie greys!

  23. mark 63 Silver badge

    good one james!

    ... the sort of research that should be encouraged, no, made mandatory. I can only assume that the other guys in Smith?'s team are solving equally pressing questions such as "In a fight between King Kong and Godzilla...."


    good point , well made

  24. disgruntled yank

    Does it work for zombie novels

    If so, there may be hope for us yet.

  25. Havin_it

    Hang on a minute...

    ... er, actually, don't. You'll be dead by then.

    There are so many small points of differentiation in the source material that it's impossible to say how effectively the Z-plague would spread or how efficiently it could be combated by the Forces of Order(TM). For a kickoff, what if they were "sprinters" instead of "shamblers"? Your vector just got a lot more scary, Prof.

    Also, an actual disease has a Patient Zero or at least just a small group of individuals at the point of emergence (where the disease jumped the species-barrier or evolved from harmless to deadly). Zombie fiction (Resident Evil notwithstanding) usually originates the plague from some form of global event, e.g. a passing comet. This means any stiffs not buried too deep to pop out of the ground instantly become vectors - again, big problems. Think how many corpses lie undiscovered in a modern city at any one time, not to mention the local woods...

    And that's just the already dead. Other sources suggest the plague may have a low-level effect on those already gravely ill or weak, enough to finish them off. In that case, don't find yourself anywhere near a hospital, nursing home or Eastbourne.

    Fundamentally, however, the paper's advice will fall on deaf ears in many, many cases, a bit like "don't surf warez/pr0n sites using IE6 under an Administrator account" (there, IT angle - phew). These films should have taught us all by now that bloodthirsty violence is the only survivable solution, but are you sure you'll react any differently than that hapless schmoe in the movie when it's *your* 4-year-old daughter you're being ordered to decapitate just because her eyes went a funny colour?

  26. ukslim

    What Pev said

    Exactly right, Pev.

    One of the key moments in WWZ (spoiler alert!) is when the army takes on a zombie horde with their conventional weapons, and end up overrun by... a zombie horde full of bullet holes.

    Mankind have made lots of weapons that are very good at perforating human beings, or tearing them apart. Traditional film/book zombies, they don't mind that so much.

  27. Nigel 11

    A counter-example? Which we are living with.

    Does AIDS plus this proof mean that the human race is doomed?

    AIDS is, after all, a killer plague that leaves its victims free to wander around for a number of years, in many cases not knowing that they are infected and infectious. The saving grace is that it's not very infectious. It requires blood or sexual contact to be passed on, which limits its spread. Hepatitis-C is similar.

    Leprosy and TB were similar slow killers, before the advent of antibiotics. THe human race survived them. TB can be spread merely by close proximity to an infected person. TB is becoming drug-resistant and within decades, it may again become an untreatable killer with low infectivity and a long incubation period.

    And then there was the SARS outbreak, which was a lucky break for humanity. It wasn't slow, but it was sufficiently low in infectivity that small changes in human behaviour (face masks, not shaking hands, etc.) drove it to extinction.

    So isn't the actual Z-plague story that we could not co-exist with *sufficiently infectious* zombies? But that's then so bleeding obvious, why bother saying it? And they've made the movie (the one where the human race loses) several times over.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    but what about....

    getting rid of the zombies who are squatting in westminster...

    i got one of those living (or is it un-dead'ing) camped out next door!

    i'm all for preemptive off with thier head action!

    now who's handing out the firearms so we can deal with this national menace...

    mines the one(bio-haz suit) with the uzi's in the pockets.....

  29. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    And in the virtual world?

    What advice can wetake from this for zombie bot-nets? Or thier 'hosts'?

  30. Stu

    I'm liking this study a lot.

    Theres nothing quite like a bit of hypothetical study here or there, especially when it comes to the excellent subject of Zombification. However I've just got one question.

    How much funding did your department pull in this year 'Smith?'?

    Oh well, at least it wasn't British tax payers who foot the bill, I'm sure all he must have done was read the zombie survival guide by Max Brooks and put it into report form.

  31. The Indomitable Gall

    Lighten up!

    To the (surprisingly few) who've made disparaging comments about this paper: lighten up!

    They're having a laugh while exploring the extreme limits of current epidemiology models. They could have made their own doomsday scenario, but this is far more engaging.

    And for those who've made disparaging comments about *that* name: quite right. If he wanted to write papers about zombies, he should have called himself Rooobert Smiiiiiiiith.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    World War Z lovers

    Not at all. In high-intensity warfare, when the enemy isn't hiding from you and you can use all your stuff (eg World War II, Gulf War I) hardly anybody gets hit or killed by bullets. Artillery, mortars, airstrikes, tanks etc. The zombies won't have bullet holes in them, they will be blown to bits or incinerated and then the bits run over by tanks. Their brains will be fried/scttered all over the landscape at once. Plus the idea of "bullet holes" is misleading when you're talking about high-velocity rifle bullets - the exit wounds are such as to blow big chunks of the body away. A good squirt from a high-velocity automatic weapon doesn't make holes in a human body, it tears it to pieces. Let alone once we get into cal-.50 rounds etc

    That was what was wrong with WWZ and similar stuff - they are written by someone who had basically very little idea about what happens when ordinary humans go to war. People thjnk zombie films are violent, but they're nothing compared to what a realistic war movie would be like.

    Nothing that the zombie/horror writers can imagine is as bad as ordinary human war

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Combine the following into a sentence

    time hands on much too their


  34. Smallbrainfield

    I always thought

    some sort of armoured combine harvester coupled with a pair of forward mounted bark chippers would do the trick.

    The thing is, the military would adapt pretty quickly and employ a load of FPS geeks then sit back listening to the cries of 'HEAD SHOT'.

  35. Mothballs
    Big Brother

    I have a cunning plan...

    Why not take away their driving licences?

  36. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    @AC 18th August 2009 13:30

    and we all laughed at the Swiss militia and its members storing their weapons at home. Mind you they don't even have an undead Scot as president.


  37. Anonymous John

    Oh no!

    Not another overlord story.

  38. weirdcult

    no way

    How many comments and no one has done it.....well I for one welcome our brain eating undead overlords +p

  39. Anonymous Coward

    "The disease-free equilibrium is always unstable"

    Err, bollocks. The "disease-free equilibrium" is exactly where we are right now in the *real* world, and it's going to stay that way: zero current zombies = zero infectors = zero new zombies = no zombies overall.

    You can only claim that it's unstable by hypothesising that zombieism can spotaneously arise de novo, but if you do that you've just assumed what you set out to prove and got a circular argument.

  40. Jamie 19

    Post-Secondary Education

    No wonder most people back home in the Great White North have gone off for some fine polished Post-Secondary Education.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    this guy is a genious "possible real-life applications may include allegiance to political parties,"

    read paper down to 7. discussion

    "The key difference between the models presented here and other models of infectious

    disease is that the dead can come back to life. Clearly, this is an unlikely scenario if taken

    literally, but possible real-life applications may include allegiance to political parties, or

    diseases with a dormant infection."

    this paper shows how math works and it probably makes easier to teach it (consider last hour of the day, two hour lessons, you need to wake up the students) - I am surprised by so many bad comments about it.

  42. E 2

    @Apocalypse Later

    Yes indeed. George W. Bush handing Wall Street one trillion dollars with essentially no strings attached was a complete betrayal of small-c conservatism.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Humans are amazingly good at killing.

    28 Days later is as close to a real world example of a Zombie Viral outbreak as you can ask for.

    The UK is a very densly packed country, an outbreak would spread fast creating Millions of Zomibes.

    Imagine if swine flu mutated, it destroys the higher brain functions leaving just primal instincts including massive hunger pains that never stop, sending the human into a constant fit of rage!

    You now have a human who is basically an deadly animal who cant stop eating!

    Humans are quite capable of killing Bears, Lions, Tigers, Hedgehogs, Sharks and Wolves etc in fights to the death with thier bare hands.

    Short of carpet boming everything, Zombies and uninfected Humans alike, a Zombie Viral outbreak would be devastating in the UK.

    Look at America, it took them 5 days to get water to New Orleans after the hurricane hit!

    The military is a big lumbering machine, too slow to stop a Zombie outbreak.

    If the Z-Virus is not airborn then humans have a good chance if they just stay put, board up windows and doors, stock up on water and tinned food and make some make shift weapons!

    If the Z-Virus is Airborn, well unless your immune then I suggest using salt and pepper on your human meat!

    Happy eating!

    Be Prepared!

    Emergancy Response Plans to date:

    1001 Zombie Plague

    1002 Warewolfs

    1003 Vampires

    1004 E.L.E Event

    1005 Alien Invasion

    1006 Mother In-Law Vist

    1007 Global Flooding

    1008 Global Warming (ERP Not to be used, Global warming is unlikely in this century)

    1009 Insect rebellion

    1010 Supernatural/Hell on Earth

    1011 Machines Take Over (There is no Spoon)

    1012 Pandora Event

    1013 UK Military Project "Alpha-9RE4Z3V77-Omega" Failure

    1014 G.O.D Event

  44. Guy 6

    Well if they'd just used linux....

    they never would have become zombies in the first place.

  45. Apocalypse Later


    Ad hominem attacks are a specialty of those who have no argument on the merits. One of the reasons Obama has hit a rough spot recently is that, with Bush gone, he has no obvious opponent to savage (and of course he has no arguments to muster in support of his policies).

    Once again I must inform the forum that I am neither an American nor a Republican. I am a British citizen, born in Britain, and belong to no party (though I see nothing wrong with the aims of UKIP).

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Academia supports...

    ... overeducated shitheads who get paid to ponder worthless crap that often has little or no usefulness in the real world.

    Some may protest, "But if we didn't study it, we wouldn't *know* whether or not it's worthless!"

    There's some truth to that.

    Nevertheless, some academics are so completely out of touch with reality, living in their little myopic sheltered academic worlds, that it reduces their chances of making truly meaningful contributions to society.

    Or else they make contributions that are fraught with serious design flaws due to the designers' ignorance of the big picture and real-world concerns - for instance, internet security comes to mind ("Gee, why would anyone want to try to break into someone else's computer; that would never happen") - there's my IT angle ;)

    BTW, it's similarly unimpressive when namby-pamby profs and such seek to *artificially* *create* risks in their overly-safe and sheltered lives. So the public not only has to pay for these people's salaries, but then has to pay for their doctor and hospital bills when the bastards get injured while attempting to climb Mt. Everest/Rainier/whatever (not that there's much comparison between the two, so I've heard) or engaging in any number of other pathetic attempt at artificially-induced thrill-seeking in their off-duty hours.

    If they wanted REAL challenge and danger, they'd move out of their million-dollar homes in their lovely gated communities and go live in a bad part of town for a few years (overnight doesn't count), find out about the real world for a change, and maybe see why it's not such a good idea (after all) to be quite so fucking LIBERAL about tolerating crime, drug abuse, etc. Sorry if anyone's ideals get shattered, but life is more than about campus.

    And some people wonder why "kids are so stupid nowadays," well it's because far too many of their parents and elders are stupid. Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

    - Written by an old fart who's old enough to know better, but not too old to... to... um... sorry, senior moment there ;)

  47. Jason DePriest

    World War Z

    The point of the stories surrounding the Battle of Yonkers is that the higher ups were underestimating the enemy. They told their men to wage not just a conventional war, but a showy, flashy war designed to impress the population, not to kill zombies.

    The soldiers knew better. They knew they were f'd. They knew a handful of snipers on the roofs would be better than fancy missiles that shower shrapnel and suck the oxygen out of an area.

    But the brass didn't care.

    It was a slaughter because the men on the ground were burdened with heavy, unnecessary gear and told to use tactics that would not work.

  48. Martin Lyne

    Automatic rifles + Zombies

    = a virus saturated blood vapour cloud.

    And now your front line of soldiers are feeling a bit woozy.

    Consider if birds or rodents become a vector: Fallout from nuking a city is bad, having to nuke some rainforest too.

    Just get lots of thick, bite-proof jumpers and leg it!


    zombies wow

    this could happen anythings possible voodoo or whatever its called all thease infections and bugs and stuff going around this could be a night of the living dead or dawn of the dead earth before long. zombies eating warm human flesh hum reminds me of dawn of the dead movie lol anyway but you never know or it could be worse it could be 28 days later and infect the uk ouch that would be bad no government or anything no police or healthcare yikes

  50. Anonymous Coward

    Doctorate in

    Zombology anyone?

    My advice is to stay out of the shopping malls.

    Feed zombies on [[insert fast-food chain here]] and wait for them all to die.

    So why are they being released into the wild in the first place?

    Follow the money trail.

    The UN will have a memo somewhere on how the media should handle this.

  51. jake Silver badge

    ::rolls eyes::

    I can't believe how many folks above take this seriously ... Some kids found a way to make a few bucks playing games in the name of "research". End of discussion.

    I suspect more than a few of you should step away from the console and discover the wonderfulness that is the Great Outdoors ...

  52. Mr Larrington

    @Apocalypse Later

    "the plague is socialism"


  53. Loki 1


    A vampire outbreak would be a very different scenario. Vampires by their nature would not be interested in total 'infection' of the human race as they still need cattle (humans) to feed on.

    The scenario here for a relatively organized and intelligent group of vampires would be to use their powers of suggestion and turning to bats/mist etc to infiltrate the higher echelons of government and get the government to pass laws that restrict movement, control our freedom, etc, until we all become their slaves..... oh wait! F**k.... thats it! The vampires are in charge...

  54. Tony Rogers
    Thumb Up

    Zombie Wife

    I have noticed strange reactions recently from my wife and mother-in-law.

    Should I despatch them with all possible speed , assuming that zombism is my correct analysis ?

    I do not believe that there are any legal precedents other than a defence pursued by a young

    lady (Lizzie Borden) in the USA who chopped up her mother and father.

    The trial outcome was that she was released !

    Were they zombies ?

    Maybe this is the route to go eh ?

  55. Jason Lobotomy

    Calculation Error: Missing Zombie Vaccine

    Awesome! I can't wait!

    Wait a minute! There is a critical error in his calculations! What about a zombie vaccine? My hypothesis is that if people could become immune to zombieism, they would then only die from a zombie attack making it more comparable to a plague. Then the only difference with a plague is that the hosts die from the plague while original Zombies would still exist.

    I argue that if kept in minimal numbers, Zombies could probably be quarantined and put on display in zoos. Even better, we could create a Romanesque sporting event where criminals are thrown into a coliseum pit of Zombies. Now how cool would that be?!?!

    Also excluded is the ethical side of the debate. Morals need to come into play here: THINK OF THE ZOMBIE CHILDREN! :*O

  56. Tony Paulazzo
    Dead Vulture

    Only instant, merciless violence can save humanity

    Great paper, utterly wrong. Assuming it's a viral outbreak, we dispatch all the zombies (see how I survived there), the few survivors living in a crapped out world, most completely insane, and when you die, you have to be dispatched to stop the outbreak reoccurring. Assuming total success rate, how many people are going to be giving birth - if the baby does go to full term, new zombie outbreak.

    Final result, death of humanity within a couple of decades.

    Assuming no crossover to the animal population.

  57. Anonymous Coward

    @ Humans are amazingly good at killing. #

    By Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 18th August 2009 15:57 GMT

    [Imagine if swine flu mutated, it destroys the higher brain functions]

    leaving just primal instincts including massive hunger pains that never stop, sending the human into a constant fit of rage!

    ... besides the sentence in [ ] you are just talking about our real everyday life, right ?

    so what's the point here? well...

    I, for one, welcome our Zombie overlords

  58. The other Ross

    @ Covert North American Scum

    I can't form a complete sentence with the words you've got there, old chap, it would be missing an object. Try including the following words in your list:

    "commenters, some, have"

  59. The other Ross

    Oh, and DEAD4EVER?

    Trying to follow your contribution has left a ringing in my frontal lobes. Here's some spare punctuation, as you appear to have run out.


  60. John Sanders

    Everybody knows

    That to stop a full scale zombie outbreak all you need to do is to seed the garden with pea-shooter plants. Some potato mines and sunflowers.

    I think this zombie-mania is some sort of inadvertently provoked viral marketing campaign... that and playing Plants vs Zombies til the early morning.

  61. Anonymous Coward

    Reality Vs. Reg comment crowd

    Clearly you lot don´t realise what actual Non TV/movie weapons do to a human shaped object. Ok lets for just say that the brain goes intact trough a modern day army barrage. What good is a brain that has no legs or arms? Modern warfare dosent leave you with a few bullet holes. It leaves you spread out over a few square miles. Zombie Vs. Human? Human every time.

  62. Anonymous Coward

    It's a start

    I agree, this sort of paper is useful, ok maybe life won't imitate the movies, but there are plenty of examples of zombie-like symbiosis in nature. This includes changing the behaviour of insects and animals and altering the biology of plants. Resident Evil 4 is based on parasitic behaviour rather than viral, and some of the notes you find give details of real life zombie parasites that actually do exist. A recent story featured a man who deliberately infects himself with hookworms to supress his immune system. This has to be carefully managed because if the population grows too much, he becomes anaemic.

    It is not unreasonable to anticipate that these things that happen in the microbiological world could not be mirrored somehow in macrobiology. The effects might not be true to hollywood, but hollywood often mis-represents the truth/original works see "I am legend", "Titanic", "War of the worlds", "Enigma" and compare to the actual events. And nature is by far the better creative genius. Imagine a scenario where parasitic wasps, having gained a foothold and evolved due to dwindling numbers of bees, start to lay their eggs in humans and the larvae migrate to the brain, significantly altering behavioural patterns in a specific way, the infected human is not dependent on the parasite for survival, but is no longer a single entity. This scenario was explored in an episode of Stargate SG1 (Season 2) where Teal-c is infested by an alien wasp and cocoons himself in a dis-used building. Luckily the SG-1 team develop a vaccine and sort him out in the nick of time before the whole planet gets wiped out (again) hooray!

    That is one thing this paper neglects to include - an external non-human vector. It becomes much more difficult if you're fighting on two fronts.

    The other major omission is consideration of the side-effects of significant depletion/distraction of the human race; planes stop flying, ships stop sailing, food and fuel stop coming in, water supplies start to dwindle, power stations shut down, money becomes worthless and lead pipes finally turn into gold.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Different model for America

    The USA requires a different model because a significant number of their human population would be wiped out by friendly fire.

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