What Can ‘The Walking Dead’ Teach Us About Public Health Crises?

Zombies are so stressful.

Zombies are so stressful.

There are many things fans of The Walking Dead can learn about a potential zombie apocalypse: Crossbows are awesome when Daryl is wielding one, never trust someone who just goes by “The Governor” and zombies are always snacking. But more perhaps important than studying the way Rick tenses his eyes just so, there are vital lessons about public health to be had from the popular post-apocalyptic show.

A few weeks back everyone was buzzing about the University of California, Irvine starting up a new, free online class teaching straight from The Walking Dead. That’s all fine and perfect fodder for the pop culture publicity machine, but is there anything of actual educational value to learn?

That’s what a public health faculty member at the university wondered.

“When this invitation came to teach something through The Walking Dead, it was very difficult at first for me to see how to do that from my perspective as a physician,” Dr. Zuzana Bic tells CBSNews.com.

“But I saw it’s so real and had so much suffering and pain, and there was no public health team working together. I saw the frustration, depression and no empathy… I realized that it’s necessary to use this opportunity to teach and educate about public health.”

Four lecturers are tackling “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons From AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’ ”

For her part of the course. Dr. Bic is bringing up a lot of practical stuff: What is the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a public health crisis? What would a post apocalyptic diet mean for the population (there are only so many cans of food to scavenge) and how stress impacts people who live through a disease epidemic. In this case, zombies are the disease.

ALL DISEASES/ZOMBIES ARE A THREAT
Slow zombies are a lot like the spread of chronic disease, she explains: Everyone runs from a fast zombie — in this case, infectious diseases — but any zombie/disease is a threat.

“We are so scared of infectious disease, but nobody is afraid of chronic disease, which brings pain, suffering and many problems,” she pointed out.

WALKER REPELLANT MIGHT WORK AND IS A LOT CLEANER THAN SPLATTERING BRAINS
Students will also learn how they could possibly protect themselves from the snapping jaws of the undead by studying insect models. If zombies avoid humans who smell like them, couldn’t we work out some kind of repellant not unlike what we use to fend off mosquitos?

IN A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE/HEALTH CRISIS, DON’T STRESS YOURSELF OUT AND MAKE SURE TO EAT RIGHT
Another important lesson in real life and zombie life: Stressing out is not going to help you through any health crisis, and if stress leads to not getting the right nutrition, that’s even worse.

“You can see on the TV, every person is so stressed out,” Bic explained. “I want to talk about how they can deal with that. There are different ways to improve your health and different techniques on how to become more optimistic, how to see life in a different ways and how to listen properly. Many of the confrontations and problems are because people aren’t listening carefully.”

You hear that, Governor? You need to listen to people, not [insert spoiler about how super bad this guy is by using an example of that one awful thing he did, of which there are many].

*Thanks to my mom for sending me this story and I promise I’ll try not to eat you if I become a zombie.

“Walking Dead” course teaches lessons about public health [CBSNews.com]