• Question: is it possible for a virus or parasitic infection to control your brain and what you do? Ex- A zombie apocolypse- The virus to cause them to crave meat or other people?

    Asked by booklover to Artem, Caroline, John, Gunther on 20 Jun 2012.
    • Photo: Artem Evdokimov

      Artem Evdokimov answered on 20 Jun 2012:

      Zombies are just so popular these days 🙂

      So let’s dissect the facts: are there viruses and other parasites that can change behavior of the host? The answer is a clear yes – you can consider the cases of ‘zombie ants’, ‘zombie snails’, and ‘puppet crabs’ for example:




      and other lovely creatures discussed in this book:

      However, it is a very different situation where a virus would turn people specifically into zombie-like ravenous creatures. Even the dreaded Rabies virus does not really come close to the behavior changes on this scale.

      So I would say that it is theoretically possible but is extremely unlikely. Simply speaking, there are better and ‘cheaper’ (simpler and more effective) ways for viruses to propagate themselves. Common cold is one of the absolute best in its class – just look how successful its infection strategy is and how it evades our immune systems’ response every year…

    • Photo: John Short

      John Short answered on 20 Jun 2012:

      Direct control, in terms of telling you what to do or think would not be possible. However, a virus or parasite (collectively known as pathogens) could destroy or damage parts of the brain to do with consciousness, i.e. the personality of someone. If that happened, in that scenario and left the other functions of the brain intact, you would therefore be an organism that survived completely on instinct as most animals do. Then you would act as a zombie that ran at people trying to eat them transmitting the virus to them, or you could turn into a sex fiend or sleep lots, as the basic functions would be to eat, to reproduce and to sleep.

      However, here is a thought for you, scientists are trying to use viruses to deliver drugs into cells to treat cancer, or deliver new genetic sequences to cure genetic conditions of people. If, however you engineered a virus to deliver a drug to the brain, you could render them zombified, or deliver truth serum type drugs or paralyse them.. scary thought..