Top Ten Myths & Misunderstandings:
ZWN Science Editor: Dr. Nancy Chan

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I guess you could call it the ultimate case of art imitating life. Here we are at the birth of a new century, a time where you may have thought that science would finally dictate reason. Immovable logic eradicates fantasy, and monsters be banished to history.

Who could have predicted that our fantastical creatures of the night, our demons, our hellions, would become this centuries own scourge?

It's Tinsletown turned on it's head. Typically, when a threat arrives, Hollywood rushes forward to exploit it, drains it of it's last dignity and then discards it on the heap of forgotten causes and interests. And there in the company of AIDS, Vietnam, and the cold war, it expires it's last painful breath.

But with the Necro- Mortosis virus, a parasite that has left whole countries decimated, our concept of the living dead had already been well defined, packaged and marketed with a special 'collectors edition' DVD.

And that is why I, ZWN's Science Editor, am writing this rather rambling introduction today. You see, it is this irony, that the virus came after the concept that has crippled many a logical and rational approach to dealing with the Mortosis virus.

So I am now going to bust a few of the treasured myths and falsehoods we have acquired over the years.

1. It is politically correct to refer to them as the 'undead' not 'Zombies' We have had many complaints from families and loved ones of those lost to the disease. They have asked us to not refer to them using the 'Z' word. We have agreed out of respect, to comply. Yes, some social action groups are lobbying congress to make the 'Z' word illegal. But for now at least this is a personal choice.

2. The undead have extra ordinary strength. - No. Absolutely untrue. The longer they have been dead, the acuter the atrophy in their muscles, and in many case, a mild form of rigor mortis further disables their mobility. Remember, decay has set in. Bacteria has begun to break down the flesh and bone.

3. The undead can learn to use tools and weapons - again, no. 'Land of the dead' was an innovative movie in that respect (see photo above) but cognitive reason? Not to our knowledge. Coordination is a huge challenge in itself. They often will simply fall over with the task. Most undead seem to have lost the ability to use precision grip completely. They cannot even open a door let alone use a wrench.

4. He who dies will rise - Not true. Only those infected with the virus will rise. Anyone expiring from circumstances unrelated to a mortosis sufferer will simply die. The virus is transmitted via fluid exchange. This can be through bites, dirty needles, sexual contact or blood transfusion.

5. 'Necro-Mortosis' is a parasite not a virus - That's a hard one. And one for another column. Many people feel that viruses and parasitism are mutually exclusive. It has been argued extensively that viruses in general are living organisms. Most virologists contend they are non-living, pointing out that they do not meet all the criteria of the generally accepted definition of life.

6. The undead can rip you limb from limb - Ridiculous. Hollywood at it's most sensational. Consider the amount of strength needed to dismember a human being. In medieval times those Englishmen unfortunate enough to be condemned as traitors of the crown were 'quartered'. Tied by each limb between four opposing horses. The horses rode at speed in each direction taking the traitors limbs to the four corners of England. My point is, it took a strong horse to rip a limb. Not a decaying corpse. They can dislocate an arm of course. This has been documented on many an occasion. But pulling heads off and ripping limbs? again - no.

7. Well, if they are not super strong, and cannot tear you limb from limb, what is there to fear? - A person with that attitude would last barely long enough to write that very sentence in an outbreak. They may be dead, and uncoordinated. But they are highly infected, single of purpose, relentless, bereft of compassion, and feel neither pain, fear nor exhaustion.

8. The undead do not feed on other animals - It's an odd phenomenon, but some do and some don't. Scientists have yet to come to an agreement on why that is.

9. The undead can run - Fortunately no. Again, this is Hollywood. Many can barely muster the rudimentary motor skills required to walk.

10. The undead eat brains - Actually yes they do. But they also eat any remnant of warm flesh. They do not seek to drink blood. Nor eat bone. However, these are often ingested as part of the course of devouring warm flesh.

This list goes up to 11: If you cut off an arm will that arm then crawl after you? - No. How could it? It has no attachement to the brain now. The brain is where the virus inhabits. No appendage once cut off will thrive. Even if it could, how would it know where you were? It has no senses to help guide it.

Following is an exerpt from 'How the virus works'
The brain is still alive. The virus in essence, 'tricks' the brain into killing it's own body. But not letting the brain die. The virus feeds nutrients and stimulation to the surrounded brains myelin coating. Thus suspending atrophy of the body, and 're-animating' the host.

The host then needs to gain additional nutrients to continue the feeding of the virus. And so it impulsively searches for food. The source of nutrition required by the virus, aphion A and betax B, can only be found in warm blood and meat. Hence the cycle begins: The hosts needs to kill to serve the virus to keep the host alive.

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