Search This Blog

Friday, May 20, 2011

CDC v. Zombies

There are many kinds of health issues. In our chapter on bureaucracy and the administrative state, we mention the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A couple of days ago, a CDC blog contained a post about zombies by Dr. Ali Khan (h/t Patrick Eagan-Van Meter):

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.


If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine). It’s likely that an investigation of this scenario would seek to accomplish several goals: determine the cause of the illness, the source of the infection/virus/toxin, learn how it is transmitted and how readily it is spread, how to break the cycle of transmission and thus prevent further cases, and how patients can best be treated. Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work).

To learn more about what CDC does to prepare for and respond to emergencies of all kinds, visit:

To learn more about how you can prepare for and stay safe during an emergency visit:

To download a badge like the one above that you can add to your social networking profile, blog, website, or email signature visit:

NPR provides some context:

The idea evolved from a CDC Twitter session with the public earlier this year about planning for disasters. Activity spiked when dozens of tweets came in from people saying they were concerned about zombies.

Dave Daigle, a veteran communications specialist, proposed the idea of using a zombie hook to spice up the hurricane message. Khan, director of emergency preparedness, approved it immediately and wrote it himself.

"Most directors would have thrown me out of their office," Daigle laughed. "Ali has a good sense of humor."

In the blog, Khan discussed what fiction has said about flesh-eating zombies and the various infectious agents that different movies have fingered as the cause.

His favorite zombie flick is "Resident Evil," but his interest in unpredictable terrors is driven more by his decades of work tracking real-life infections like Ebola hemorrhagic fever, bird flu and SARS.

CDC officials said the feedback they've gotten is almost completely positive, including a nice note from the boss, Dr. Tom Frieden.

Almost as rewarding was a nice comment Daigle said he received from his 14-year-old daughter, who has shown little interest in her dad's work but saw the zombie post and said, "This is cool!"

There have been few comments asking whether this is the best way for the government to spend tax dollars. The agency is under a tight budget review at the moment and facing potentially serious budget cuts. But the zombie post involved no extra time or expenditure, CDC officials said.

"We have a critical message to get out and that is CDC saves lives while saving money. If it takes zombies to help us get that message out, then so be it," said agency spokesman Tom Skinner.