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Researchers say zombie epidemic would spread like wildfire

Researchers decided to use a fun idea to illustrate a new tool designed to predict spread of diseases and health epidemics.

By Doug G. Ware
Researchers say zombie epidemic would spread like wildfire
Zombie characters are seen at the Deadrising3 display during E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo held at the LA Convention Center in Los Angeles on June 11, 2013. Photo: UPI/Phil McCarten | License Photo

ITHACA, N.Y., March 6 (UPI) -- Researchers at New York's Cornell University have given us a glimpse of just how fast a zombie plague would overtake the United States -- you know, if that sort of thing ever really happened.

Using data from the 2010 U.S. Census and an epidemiological tool that can predict the progress of actual infectious diseases, the researchers scoped just such a scenario and presented their findings to the American Physical Society's March meeting in San Antonio on Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

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The Chronicle used the scientists' interactive online tool to calculate a zombie outbreak in the Bay Area. After placing the first undead "Patient Zero" in San Francisco, the newspaper found that -- using a recommended 0.8 bite-to-kill ratio -- the entire city would become infected within 24 hours. Within 36 hours, zombies will have made their way to the East Bay and north and east into Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties.

"Wine tasting gives way to brain tasting," Chronicle writer Mike Moffitt mused.

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By day two, the undead have taken over Facebook offices in Menlo Park and Google headquarters in Mountain View, as well as Apple territory.

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"You can probably forget about the new Apple Watch you were waiting for from Cupertino," Moffitt says. "Its rollout is going to be delayed. Indefinitely."

Central and Southern California succumb to the ghoulish epidemic within weeks, but it takes months for zombies to take over the northern Rocky Mountains in the Chronicle's World War Z scenario.

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The Cornell researchers said they decided to issue a report using such a fictional matter due to zombies' newfound popularity.

"Zombies have attracted some attention lately as a novel and interesting twist on classic disease models," the report said.

The research, of course, has much practical use regarding real life diseases and potential epidemics -- which ultimately is the focus of the research project. But in keeping with the spirit of how a zombie outbreak might affect us all, the Cornell scientists issued a summary edict that's quite harrowing.

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"We build up to a full scale simulation of an outbreak in the United States, and discover that for 'realistic' parameters, we are largely doomed," they said.

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