This Halloween, the zombies will emerge … hopefully only in costume. Which begs the question, is the zombie myth simply a myth? According to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, maybe not.
While there's not a medical epidemic of zombie-ism on the horizon, part of the zombie myth is actually rooted in biomedical science.
"There are quasi-scientific roots to almost all of your classic monsters," said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. "And zombies are no exception."
It seems those zombies are everywhere, too, on TV and on the big screen. In pop fiction, these flesh eating monsters were once normal people transformed by mutated viruses and parasites. Dr. Prescott says that idea isn't that far-fetched.
"There are historically some types of medical problems that are sort of like zombie-ism," he said.
Certain medications, illicit drugs and viruses like encephalitis, meningitis and even rabies can mimic zombie like behaviors.
"People who get rabies because they get inflammation in their brain, they don't think properly and they can be a little crazed, rabid if you will, for brief time in their illness," said Dr. Prescott.
In fact, in West Africa, a disease known as Trypanosomiasis or "sleeping sickness" carries some pretty scary traits of a zombie infection.
"Trypanosomiasis in West Africa happens very precisely because of a fly, a specific fly, called the tsetse fly that only exists in Africa," he said.
When this fly bites, it injects a parasite into its victims, which invades the brain, causing flu-like symptoms and a disruption of sleep.
"When they should be awake during the day, they appear to be sleeping or like sleepwalking and they are awake at night and roaming around," Dr. Prescott said. "They begin to lose their mental faculties, they can't think or behave properly and ultimately it kills them."
Although there is no vaccine for this type of fly bite, Dr. Prescott says there is some good news.
"There aren't any tsetse flies in America, so we're not going to get African sleeping sickness and that kind of zombies, that's for sure."
While Dr. Prescott says he isn't losing any sleep over a zombie apocalypse, those of us who are, can head over to the "Zombie Preparedness" section of the Centers for Disease Control's website and get prepared, just in case.