In 2002 Hollywood threw the first demonic resident adaptation of the popular video game, sparking a film and television franchise that is still going on twenty years later. But there is one aspect of his legacy worth taking a closer look at today: the movie’s fictional T-Virus.
A futuristic entity known as the Umbrella Corporation manufactures a viral biological weapon in its laboratory. Soon, the virus escapes through the facility’s air ducts and causes a massive disease outbreak that turns people into cannibalistic zombies. The protagonist and the rest of her crew fight zombies to prevent the spread of the disease to the outside world.
To be clear: the virus isn’t real (and neither are zombies), but is it even plausible? (Spoilers ahead of Resident Evil (2002).)
reel science it’s a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and TV shows.
Are zombie viruses real?
If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, here’s a quick rundown of what the virus does: It turns people into mindless, bloodthirsty zombies with only basic motor functions, low intelligence, and no working memory. According to the film, these human zombies “are driven by the lowest urges, the most basic need: the need to feed.”
William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, tells Reverse: “there is no such virus that does that”.
However, some real-life viruses resemble certain aspects of zombieification, so to speak. Some infectious diseases cause inflammation of the brain and affect our thinking and behavior, a condition known as encephalitis.
“You could have brain tumors growing, which make you do unusual things, alter your personality. Make your reasoning not very effective, and even induce seizures,” says Schaffner.
Some scientists have compared rabies, which humans can contract when an infected animal bites or scratches a human, to a zombie-like virus due to its ability to cause anger and confusion, but again, that’s because rabies causes encephalitis. .
the trailer of demonic resident (2002).
“I couldn’t think of a virus that would reduce you to very primitive functions, like looking for food,” says Schaffner.
Donald J. Alcendor, adjunct associate professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says Reverse there is a virus that has been little talked about that shares some characteristics with typical zombie viruses.
That virus is the John Cunningham virus (JC for short). It is a type of polyomavirus, which is a family of DNA viruses that exists in mammals and birds. Most human adults have been exposed to the JC virus and don’t even know it.
“If your immune system is intact, this is a virus you will carry throughout your life. And it shouldn’t cause you any problems,” says Alcendor.
The reason most of us have never heard of the JC virus is that the immune system of healthy adults can normally fight it off. But immunocompromised adults can’t fight off the virus as easily. In their bodies, the JC virus progresses from a latent state to an active state and begins to replicate, causing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).
“I couldn’t think of a virus that would reduce you to very primitive functions”
This condition destroys myelin, which forms a protective coating around neurons in your brain. The individual may display some characteristics that we normally associate with zombies, including personality changes, clumsiness and stumbling, paralysis, and grunting due to verbal communication problems.
“If you think of something that gives you zombie-like pathologies, I would say the closest thing to me would be a JC virus infection,” says Alcendor.
It is important to emphasize that people with the JC virus are not going around attacking people like zombies; most are bedridden. However, it is still a dangerous virus for those it infects, as there is no real treatment.
“I would say that 50 percent of people who are diagnosed with PML die within three to six months of diagnosis,” adds Alcendor.
Is the T virus realistic?
Here is a description of the virus from the movie, explaining how it revives the body after infection:
Even in death, hair and nails continue to grow. New cells are being produced and the brain itself has a little electrical charge… the T virus provides a massive jolt to both cell growth and those little electrical impulses. In short: it revives the body.
Bottom line: Real-life viruses can’t bring the dead back to life.
“We don’t know if someone who has been infected with a virus has somehow come back to life,” says Schaffner.
The T-Virus’s mechanism for driving cell growth, causing infected people to mutate into an even more terrifying being by feeding on human flesh, or “fresh DNA” as the movie puts it, is also highly unrealistic.
Viruses “don’t promote cell growth,” says Schaffner, adding that they “generally destroy cells.”
The T virus and Covid-19
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, cannot turn people into zombies. But there are some similarities between the T virus and SARS-CoV-2 that you may not have considered.
“COVID probably won’t turn you into a zombie, but what it can do is put you in a cage in a state of acute respiratory distress,” says Alcendor.
Perhaps the most interesting comparison we can make between the two viruses is the way they spread. The T virus can change from liquid to airborne or bloodborne transmission, depending on its environment, making it highly contagious.
Although Covid-19 is primarily an airborne disease, surface transmission is still possible, although extremely unlikely. Exposure to respiratory fluids also spreads the disease. To be clear: Covid-19 is not a blood-borne disease, but it can replicate in blood cells.
So it’s not uncommon for viruses to spread through multiple routes of transmission, although a better comparison to the T virus might be norovirus, which Schaffner says is a “highly infectious” virus that can be transmitted to through various forms involving personal contact.
But the route of transmission of a real virus is less likely to mutate depending on the environment, unlike the T virus. The Covid-19 virus mutated to become more contagious, but it did not change the way it infected people. But other viruses have changed modes of transmission. The mode of transmission of the Zika virus, which doctors believed was spread only through mosquitoes, mutated so that it could also infect through sexual contact.
“We had never heard of a mosquito-borne virus that could also be transmitted through sexual intimacies,” explains Schaffner.
But an airborne SARS-CoV-2 would be unlikely to mutate to change its transmission routes as easily as the T-virus does, giving us some reassurance in this pandemic.
“I couldn’t think of a virus that could easily mutate to have a radically different mode of transmission,” says Schaffner.
demonic resident (2002) is streaming now on Netflix.