MARTHA SEZ: ‘Impaired as they must be, zombies do have a heightened sense of smell’

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again. I don’t want to write about the coronavirus Covid-19.

It would be nice for people to be able to think about something else for a couple of minutes.

Wouldn’t it? But I can’t help myself.

Somebody stop me! Hold me back!

“I went to the supermarket and in one aisle the shelves were empty. I went to the next aisle, and it was empty too. Outside, there are no people on the streets,” my daughter, Molly, told me the other day.

“It’s scary. I wish I hadn’t watched so many zombie movies when I was a teen-ager. The Coronavirus is changing everything so fast. It’s like the Zombie Apocalypse,” she said.

I mentioned this to Zach, a friend of Molly’s, when I was at Valley Grocery in Keene Valley the other day. Zach, a media savant, told me he knew just what she meant. I had no knowledge of zombies myself, even though the groundbreaking zombie movie “Night of the Living Dead” came out in 1968 when I was at the University of Michigan and could easily have seen it.

It’s the speed of the infection, Zach explained, the way the world changes overnight.

Only a few weeks ago we were at work, people were hugging each other, we went to the school science fair. Toilet paper and rubbing alcohol were readily obtainable. No one was hoarding elbow macaroni. Today, the television ads look strange; everyone is standing and sitting so close to each other! People are all crowded together!

I learned normal people are zombified by contracting a contagious infection which they then pass on by biting others. Zombies, like vampires, are ravenous for human blood. If they don’t feed for 20 days or more they die. I mean, they really die.

I have heard that viruses are difficult to kill because they aren’t actually alive in the first place. In this way, viral epidemics and pandemics are similar to zombie invasions.

I have also learned that, impaired as they must be, zombies do have a heightened sense of smell that enables them to seek out human blood. In this way (as, of course, in many other ways) zombies are different from people who are infected with Covid-19.

The “New York Times” reported recently that one of the common symptoms of Covid-19, affecting perhaps 30 percent of those who have contracted the virus, is anosmia, a loss of the sense of smell and, consequently, the ability to taste. Some British ear, nose and throat doctors have advised that those who have lost their sense of smell, even if they have no other symptoms, should get tested for Covid-19.

Ezra Klein, in his excellent article “Don’t Be Afraid of Fast Zombies” published in the Washington Post 6/28/2013, wrote: “The rise of fast zombies — zombies that hunt like velociraptors rather than shamble like drunks — is a great and recent innovation in zombiedom. It’s what made the film “28 Days Later” such a hit…. If werewolves represent our fear of the wild, aliens our fear of the unknown and vampires our fear of sex, zombies represent our fear of infectious disease.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been featuring zombies in their promotions since 2011, with materials for educators, a poster, a graphic novel and social media online, all of which use humor, as well as scary zombies, to help the public prepare for epidemic and pandemic crises.

On the CDC “Public Health Matters” blog, Maggie Silver wrote 2/7/2012, “If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve probably figured out we’re big fans of zombies. While we know zombies are fictional, they tie in so well with…emergency preparedness that it seems like a perfect match for us!…We love ‘The Walking Dead’ on AMC, so much so that we’ve looked past the fact that they blew us up at the end of the first season and we assure you that our work here at the CDC continues.”

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, has stated that the truly dangerous diseases, like the pandemic flu of 1918, share three qualities: a host population with no immunity, the ability to spread rapidly, and severity of symptoms. A disease that is highly lethal is self-limiting, however, as it kills off its host population too rapidly to be optimally contagious.

So don’t be afraid of fast zombies, and have a good week.