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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Will you survive the zombie uprising?

science

Every now and then I plan my escape to the hills in the event that we are overrun by zombie hordes. I hope that, like me, you’ve planned what you’ll do in the event of a zombie threat. Now, while I don’t want my escape destination of choice being filled with other people (read: potential zombies), if we’re all well-equipped we’ll increase humanity’s chances of survival in the shadow of an undead enemy.

I figure that immediate action once in the Tararua Ranges will have a lot to do with the type of zombie we’re up against: the traditional, Dawn of the Dead, slow shuffling type, who’ll drag their corpses to pursue braaaains even after being shot, stabbed, and set on fire; the 28 Days Later-type zombie, infected with a highly contagious zombification virus, who can run and think, but can be killed by fairly regular means (including starvation); or the religious-cult vampire zombies of Omega Man, against whom you will need a motorbike-riding, jive-talking blaxploitation side-kick. But whether running, fighting, or just holing-up and waiting it out, there are a few essentials that you’ll need to consider in the struggle against zombies. Two of the most essential essentials are clean, drinkable water, and food to sustain you in the long and bloody fight.

Humans can’t last long without water: we need it for just about everything from brain function to digestion, for regulating body temperature, eliminating waste, and transporting nutrients. Plasma, the liquid in which our blood cells are carried, is about 95% water. Carrying a day or two’s water is practical enough, but any more than that gets difficult. Fine, you might think, the Tararuas are full of streams and rivers, that’s water sorted. But oh no—drinking that water might be your downfall. Most of the fresh water in New Zealand is home to the dormant cyst form of a protozoan parasite called giardia.

Giardia infection will severely affect your ability to fight and/or flee. Once ingested, the parasite becomes active and attaches to the epithelium (lining) of the small intestine, and causes fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps.

To avoid giardia and other waterborne contaminants, you’ll need to purify water. Most bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms like giardia will be killed by boiling water before consumption. Be aware that as you go up, the boiling point of water drops – at a rate of about a degree for every 295 metres above sea level. This means that at higher altitudes you’ll have to keep heating the water after it meets boiling point to make sure you kill any pathogens in it (for about 30 minutes at altitudes above 8000 metres). The highest you’ll get in the Tararuas is about 1570 metres, where the boiling point of water will be somewhere between 93 and 97 degrees.

Water boils at lower temperatures at higher altitudes because of atmospheric pressure—water changes from liquid to gas (steam) when its equilibrium vapour pressure is equal to the air pressure. As water heats up, the kinetic energy of its molecules increases, until it reaches this equilibrium point. At higher altitudes, air pressure is lower, and so the water reaches equilibrium point at a lower temperature.

Food’s as difficult to carry as water. You can last a little longer without food than without water—your body can burn its fat for energy, and when running low on fat, the protein in its muscles and brain—but this is not ideal, and for the long-term, you’ll need to think about procuring food. Gathering edible vegetation will fulfil some of your energy needs, but it’ll most likely need to be supplemented by hunting and fishing, to fulfil your body’s need for energy, and essential vitamins and amino acids.

If hunting animals for food, make sure there’s no 1080 in the area. The Department of Conservation uses 1080, or sodium monofluoroacetate, to kill pests that threaten New Zealand’s native wildlife. The active ingredient in 1080—fluoroacetate—is a toxin that has evolved in a number of plants to deter animals from eating them. There will usually be signs in any area in which there has been a 1080 drop, but keep an eye out on the ground for green pellets about 20mm in diametre. 1080 will kill dogs that eat it, and will stay active in animal carcasses until they have fully decomposed.

Even if there’s no 1080 in the area, you should probably steer clear of possum meat, except if you’re really starving. Possums can carry the bacteria that cause a strain of tuberculosis that can jump the species barrier and infect humans. If the tuberculosis doesn’t kill you, start coughing up blood and your fellow zombie-fighters might think you’ve been turned and despatch with you.

So if you haven’t already done so, start planning your escape route, hone your skills, and get your survival kit together. And pray that when humanity’s judgement day comes, it’s at the hands of the undead—because against zombies we can fight and win. The day when Skynet’s computers become conscious however, we’re all screwed.

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