Sunday, February 12, 2017

Zombie Autopsy

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning writer of The Sol Ascendancy.  His new novel, Zero Star, debuted at #2 on Amazon Kindle.

For whatever reason, there has been a resurrection (pardon the pun) of interest in zombies over the last decade.  Though filmmaker George A. Romero is usually credited with creating our contemporary understanding of zombies with the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, tales of zombies have been around since about 1918, and of course stories of general resurrection predate even that, but those are religious tales, the more supernatural kind.

We won't be talking about these zombies.  We'll be talking about Romero-style zombies, and/or The Walking Dead-type zombies because, well, I have a lot of questions when it comes to exactly how someone could be technically dead, yet still walk, exhibit enough strength to sometimes rip and tear flesh like a grizzly bear, yet continue to show obvious signs of decay.  How could they (conceivably) work?

I'm a writer, and as a writer I have an interest in research.  The tricky part for a writer is doing all the research and then burying it, so that it doesn't interfere with your narrative, so that you have a story and not a how-to manual.  But, in the interest of exploring this concept, doing our research (even if it's just exploratory and maybe for posterity's sake), and because it's almost Halloween, here we go.

I present to you...drumroll please...

Zombie Autopsy!

The Resurrection Process
All right, so, we'll start from the start.  How can a person return from the dead, move about like they're alive, see with their eyes and hear with their ears, yet still have necrosis (decay) taking place in almost all important skin, muscle, and other tissue cells?

As it happens, this has been explored in actual, real-world research before, because, believe it or not, there were supposed zombies in real life in Haiti, at least as far back as 1980, when a man walked into a village and claimed to be Clairvius Narcisse, a man that had died in a hospital in Deschapelles, May 2, 1962. He had memories of Narcisse's life that even close relatives had forgotten.  Other Haitian zombies have materialized through the years.

Dr. Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnobotanist, conducted extensive research and came to the conclusion that the "Haitian zombie" phenomenon was caused by a rare drug, called tetrododoxin, which comes from the puffer fish. Combined with toxins from a native tree toad and other chemicals, it could be made into a powder that could put people so close to death that it was difficult to determine whether or not they were alive.  They could also be brought back, and while most suffered long-lasting effects, some fully recovered!  But a few returned and, while cognizant, had lost some fine motor skills.  This powder could kill someone, yet keep them in a rare state where resurrection was still possible, and place the living in a condition where they lost many motor skills and had only faint life signs (like a zombie).

But zombism is obviously brought on by a pathogen, not a powder.  So, from here one, we shall refer to this pathogon as "Z-1" for simplicity's sake.

Bites from zombies, such as those in The Walking Dead, show that zombism is communicable and therefore lend more credence that this is a pathogen.  It causes tremors and terrible fever.  Z-1 probably behaves much like malaria, first hiding within the liver, where it multiplies and grows stronger.  Then, once it has marshaled enough forces, it invades the bloodstream, where it infects red blood cells.  Now come the symptoms: fever, shivering, anemia, vomiting, and convulsions.

After that, Z-1 obviously shuts down the higher brain functions but leaves the most basic sensory perceptions.  But Z-1 shows how diverse it is by not only affecting brain and motor functions, but also damaging other major tissues separate from the brain.

To attack humans so specifically, and not other animals like dogs and cats, Z-1 is probably either a single- or double-stranded DNA virus.  This means it actually has DNA as its genetic material and replicates using DNA-dependent DNA polymerase: an enzyme that acts as a catalyst.  Z-1 therefore probably shares a morphology not unlike Herpesvirales (the herpes virus).  And, like herpes, you can catch it from a bite.

While a bite accelerates the infection we are all carrying the Z-1 virus, just as 1/3 of us are carrying tuberculosis around without any ill effects (for the most part).  This is why those dead from natural causes or accidents also succumb to Z-1, which indicates that Z-1 is lying in wait for the immune system to "switch off" so it can have its day in the sun.

Necrotic Skin and Bone
Flesh sloughing off, turning blue and gray, and generally remaining damaged long after wounds ought to have scabbed over; all of these indicate that Z-1 has a unique effect on human skin.

Oxygen blockages to skin cells causes necrosis; that's the premature death of cells in living tissue.  Necrosis can happen to the living in various ways, including snake and spider bites, which indicates that Z-1 lives very, very well in human saliva, and, like the bite from a brown recluse spider, it begins a slow process of killing tissues.  But that doesn't mean it has to kill muscle tissues--only skin and flesh tend to decay, at least initially.  When zombies are injured by stupidly running into things or getting shot, the wound never heals because skin cells are dead, and the immune system, rocked by the other effects of Z-1, cannot address the problems of infections by other organisms, which only increases decay.

Given enough time, Z-1 causes necrosis of bone cells, which brings on symptoms similar to osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), of a Type IV kind or above.  In this phase of zombism, bones are easily fractured.  This is why "older" zombies (those who've had Z-1 the longest and have gone through all the major cellular breakdown stages) are mushier, easier to hack into pieces, almost exactly like a corpse.

The Brain
Like many viruses, Z-1 must mutate in order to survive.  Otherwise, it would be easy to catch and kill.  Therefore, after Z-1 has grown strong in the liver and successfully invaded the bloodstream, it quickly mutates into a whole new strand, known as Z-2, and migrates into the brain to live out the rest of its days.

The fact that zombies can still see means that Z-2 does not have much of an effect on the occipital lobe; the visual cortex.  Gray matter in the brain is obviously influenced in a very special way (gray matter controls sensory perception, muscle control, emotions, speech, hearing and memory).  A condition known as "gray matter heterotopia" can cause seizures, loss of higher brain functions, and mental retardation.  Z-2 imitates these symptoms by "slushing" the brain, causing severe swelling and thus moving portions of gray matter around, exactly as heterotopia does.

Z-2 shuts down most of the brain's other regions.  The frontal lobe, which controls the ability to recognize future consequences of current actions, is almost completely shut down.  In most sufferers, Z-2 shuts down the parietal lobe, too, which means they cannot manipulate objects at all.  However, some zombies do show the ability to figure out simple objects, such as doorknobs, which indicates Z-2 doesn't always attack the parietal lobe so aggressively.

As far as motor functions go, Z-2 initially behaves much like Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).  GBS is an acute neuropathy, which is a disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system.  In short, you lose control of your limbs.  Even after a body recovers from GBS, coordination is extremely difficult, survivors can't run as fast as they did before (at least, not without rehabilitation).  This would explain why zombies usually can't run as fast as they did when they were alive, yet can still stand and move about.  They've "survived" the first initial shock of Z-2 on their brain, but the communication between brain and muscles has been damaged forever, causing a lack of coordination.

Zombie Strength
Zombies often show that they can pry a person's belly open just with their bare hands.  How is this possible?

Well, under extreme circumstances, normal human beings have been known to exhibit incredible strength not thought possible.  This phenomenon is called "hysterical strength."  (Is there anything more hysterical than a zombie?)  Hysterical strength most commonly occurs when someone is single-minded, not caring about the consequences.  It happens in torn muscles and damaged joints: of course, sufferers of Z-2 have lots of damages to their bodies.

The brain (which we covered above) controls everything in the human body, including limiting the number of muscle fibers the body can use at once: this prevents you from overexerting and hurting yourself.  The brain also motivates the processes that create lactic acids, which also factor in.  Since Z-2 shuts down so much of the brain, it not only leaves the zombie without lactic acid production, it also allows a zombie to use its maximum strength (practically every muscle fiber in its entire body) to rip and tear and rend.  Jaw muscles are affected, just like everything else, so this gives the zombie the ability to bite so hard it can tear off huge chunks of human flesh in one bite.

This is why, while zombies appear flimsy, clumsy, and sometimes mushy, they can demonstrate incredible power when they've got their hands on a victim.

Insatiable Hunger
Back to the brain for this one.  Z-2 obviously affects the hypothalamus region of the brain in a very unique way.  There are two parts of the hypothalamus that control eating and hunger.  The lateral hypothalamus gives the signal when it's time to start eating, and the ventromedial nucleus gives the signal when it's time to stop eating.  Human beings only feel satiated when the ventromedial nucleus is functioning properly.  Z-2 sufferers often have this part of their brain operating at such a low level that it's practically dead.

Real-world evidence shows that people who have had their ventromedial nucleus injured are unable to determine when they should stop eating.

Incidentally, this region also helps control fear and sexual activity: the fact that this region of the brain is nearly dead shows just how much humanity Z-2 robs of its victims.

Inhuman Growling
"New" zombies typically only moan or hiss.  But over time, necrotic damage to the esophagus and vocal cords cause many zombies to begin pushing wind through nothing more than a leaking pipe.  Their throat and lungs begin to fill with liquid, and they are now gurgling more than growling.  This creates an unpleasant gurgle/growl in "older" zombies.

However, if their lungs are filled with liquid, we get some interesting questions.  How do zombies continue to move when the brain depends on oxygen and blood delivered to it from other parts of the body?  How can Z-2 survive in the brain at all, since the brain must surely and eventually die due to asphyxiation and ischemia?  That is, without the lungs functioning, or the heart, how does the brain receive air and blood?

The answer: It doesn't.

Z-2 sufferers still take in ample amounts of flesh (human flesh is their favorite), and this provides incredible energy for the brain to continue to function, replacing the need for oxygen and steady bloodflow altogether.  Z-2 is therefore not just a virus, but a powerful new agent that transforms the body's normal processes and ultimately serves as a very specialized life-support system for the brain, and the brain alone.

Because of this, Z-2 is able to sustain itself a very, very long time, as long as it remains in its comfortable "cradle" inside the base of the brain.  As long as nerves and connective tissues remain intact, Z-1 can keep the brain going enough to send the basest commands to its limbs.

It is not yet known how long it would take for Z-1 to die on its own.

Origin and Final Analysis
It's possible that Z-1 was manmade, as many have hypothesized. One clue is that, as stated above, it targets the human hypothalamus, making it yearn for sustenance, but does not affect the brains of other animals. And while zombies will feast on other animals if they have to, they obviously prefer a fresh human meal, yet do not often feed on each other.  They care not for their fellow dead, they show no sign of loss when one of their own gets shot or decapitated, and they lust only for flesh from the living.

Perhaps Z-1 only makes its victims "dance," makes of them puppets.  If not...

If not, then it indicates that when everything else is stripped away, when all pretenses of society and community are removed, and when human beings are laid bare and left with only their basest desires, they have only one craving, one thing that they want more than anything else: the destruction of one another.  Not to hug or make love, not to make picnics or hold hands.  But to devour that which they hate most.  Themselves.

A pathogen that causes humans to target humans.  Certainly sounds manmade.  Or else, the wrath of Nature.

For a more detailed autopsy, please see below:

Autopsy of Z-1 Sufferer

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Fulton County 2nd District
Atlanta, GA

Male Subject - Daniel William Egleston

Case No.  886670T

Approximate Age:  31 years

Height:  70 inches

Weight:  189.8 lbs.

Sex: Male

We hereby certify that on this day, October 20, 2012, pursuant to Statute 49.25 of City Code, an autopsy on the body of Daniel William Egleston was performed at the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office in Atlanta, and upon investigation of the essential facts concerning the circumstances of the death and history of the case, we are of the opinion that the cause of death was as follows:

I. Sudden death associated with:

   1. Exsanguination – Bleeding to death from gunshot wound to the sternum and intestines

   2. Hypoxia by pneumothorax – Deprived of adequate oxygen

   3. Heart failure (HF)

   4. Traumatic brain damage (TBI) – degeneration of brain cells

II. Perforating injury

Ill. Hepatomegaly (weight = 1695 gms) with mild fatty metamorphosis

IV.  Prostatic hyperplasia, mild

VI.  No evidence of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance:

     1.  Postmortem vitreous chemistry non-contributory

     2.  Blood furosemide (Lasix) negative

VII. Postmortem toxicology:

     1.  Cardiac blood fluoxetine = 2.72 ug/mL

     2.  Femoral vein blood fluoxetine = 0.778 ug/mL

     3.  Gastric fluoxetine = 4.2 ug/mL

     4.  Liver fluoxetine = 61.4 ug/mL

VIII. Postmortem blood 20 heavy metal screen negative

IX.  Postmortem blood mercury negative (below detection level)


Daniel William Egleston was 31 years of age at the time of his death.  He was a sales clerk, shot in Centennial Olympic Park, where he was apparently discovered unresponsive, along with his wife.  The exact downtime is unknown but could be as much as 20 minutes or more before he was discovered unresponsive.  The ambulance arrived at 11:08 p.m. and he was transported to Columbia Metropolitan Hospital, where immediate life support protocols were instituted.  However, he was pronounced [sic] dead at 12:01 p.m.


Signature Chenzira A. Tefni, M.D.

Signature Susan Ludner, M.D.




I. CLOTHING AND PERSONAL EFFECTS: The body is presented to the morgue secured in a body bag and clad in:

1. White button-up shirt

2. Black pants (cut)

3. Pair of white socks


Except for the gunshot wounds, the body WAS that of a normally developed, well-nourished and well-hydrated, adult Caucasian male appearing somewhat older than the given age of 31 years, with a body length of 70 inches and body weight of 189.9 pounds. The body was well-preserved, unembalmed and cool post refrigeration.  Rigor was not fully developed.  Lividity was developed, posterior, dependent, purple and slightly blanchable.
The scalp was covered by short, straight brown and occasional gray hair with slight frontal, sagittal and occipital pattern baldness.  The face was shaven.  Body hair was male distribution and average.

Subject began showing signs of Z-1 and Z-2 infection at 12:53 p.m., approximately 52 minutes after death was declared.  The body began to show a fever, despite having been dead and cold to the touch for almost an hour.  Temperature was taken, showing 109.4 F (43 C), until finally it began to "cool" to around 101.2 F.

Subject's body began twitching at 1:04 p.m., not terribly uncommon in the recently deceased.  However, the eyelids opened at 1:27 p.m. and moved about, showing definite signs of awareness.  Subject moved his lips, pushed air out from his mouth four times, and reached for Dr. Brewer, feeling of his labcoat, as though he was familiar with the texture.  At 1:35 p.m., after generally reaching about at other objects around the table he was laid on, subject suddenly went into convulsions and closed his eyes again.  Subject inert at 1:37 p.m. 

2:02 p.m.: Z-1 infection has completely morphed into Z-2.  Subject's body temperature suddenly plummeted.  Within the span of a few minutes, the temperature dropped from 98.6 F (37 C) to around 71.6 F (22 C).  Though liver, heart and lungs have all ceased functioning, the eyes have once again opened, and the arms are reaching out, this time not just to Dr. Brewer, but to others in the room, as well. 

2:09 p.m.: subject has gone inert again.  I enacted Z-ready protocols and advised medical team to maintain a three-foot distance from subject, as Z-2 sufferers are known to be erratic.

At 2:17 p.m., subject suddenly became very animated, and reached out to grab hold of Dr. Sanderson (despite my instructions, Dr. Sanderson chose to examine the subject's eyes).  Sanderson was bit; a large section of flesh was removed from her right wrist and forearm.  Subject on the table appeared angry and violent.  Dr. Sanderson was removed from the room. 

At 2:32 p.m., I contacted the other chief medical examiner, Dr. Peter Fong, and asked him how we ought to proceed.  Dr. Fong advised close adherence to Statute 50.21 of City Code, and asked me to contact subject's family. 

3:15 p.m.: The Egleston family arrived.  Two younger brothers (Darryl and Ernest) and the older sister (Pamela) to the subject.  At this point, as per my instructions, the body had been restrained by four male nurses, and strapped to the table.  Upon seeing their brother lying there, writhing, angry, and snapping at them whenever they tried to go near, the Egleston family signed the papers and determined that the subject's time of death was indeed 12:01 p.m. 

At 3:38 p.m., under the watch of the subject's surviving family and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Peter Fong, myself and Dr. Brewer performed the final immobilization:  we used the captive bolt pistol, in accordance with state law for Z-2 sufferers, and placed the nozzle on the right temple of the subject's head.  The firing pin penetrated the skull and destroyed the brain.  We performed this procedure twice more, from the left temple and from the base of the skull, to make absolutely sure that the subject was not able to move again. 

At 3:52 p.m.,  in accordance with the No-Reanimation Law recently enacted by the POTUS, and the rules and guidelines set down in the U.N. Z-2 Emergency Summit, subject's body was moved to the incinerator without any further public viewing. 

Blood and toxicology tests performed on minor necrotic cells and blood samples gathered before Z-2 onset.




ATLANTA CENTRAL                                            TERRY BREWER, PH.D., DABFT



M.E. CASE NUMBER: 886670T                           M.E. TOX NUMBER: 7780333T-XX

BLOOD  ETHANOL                     NEG

URINE  ETHANOL                      NEG

URINE  COCAINE                       NEG


GASTRIC CYANIDE                    NEG

BLOOD  CYANIDE                      NEG

URINE  CYANIDE                       NEG

URINE  OPIATES                       NEG

BLOOD  ABN (HEART)                POS    FLUOXETINE           2.630 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (FEMORAL)            POS    FLUOXETINE           0.779 UG/ML

URINE  ABN                              POS    FLUOXETINE           0.771 UG/ML

GASTRIC ABN                           POS    FLUOXETINE           4.100 UG/ML

LIVER  FLUOXETINE                  POS    FLUOXETINE           61.310 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (FEMORAL)           POS    NORFLUOXETINE        0.607 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (HEART)               POS    NORFLUOXETINE        1.850 UG/ML

URINE  ABN                             POS    NORFLUOXETINE        2.260 UG/ML

GASTRIC ABN                          POS    NORFLUOXETINE        1.077 UG/ML



[Dr. Samuel P. Brice]

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