This posting was inspired by a search term that someone had entered that led them to my blog (yes, I’m that geeky that I like to check up on this type of thing!). The search term was ‘If you amputate a zombie bite quick enough can u survive?’ This got me thinking: In the event of a zombie apocalypse, could amputation a valid survival strategy?
Well, this depends on a range of things. Firstly, amputation as a survival strategy assumes that zombism is caused by a disease of some kind that is transmittable through bites. If people are being turned into zombies by anything else, amputation would just be a very messy waste of time.
Secondly, it will depend on how the disease spreads within the human body. If the disease causes a local infection that radiates out from the bite site, then amputation would be a very valid survival strategy, especially if it was done quickly. However, if the disease spreads systemically, things are less clear-cut. If this is through the blood stream, then it’s going to spread very quickly. Your blood circulates around your body roughly once a minute, meaning that any zombie infection that spreads via the blood stream is likely to have travelled well beyond the initial bite site before you’d have the chance to lop off the infected limb. However, diseases can also spread systematically through the lymph system. This system moves things through the body much more slowly, giving time for amputation to be effective.
This having been said, there might be a way to stop a blood-borne zombie infection in its tracks, buying you enough time for amputation to be a viable option. This would be by using a tourniquet. A tourniquet effectively isolates the blood system in a limb from the rest of the body for a short length of time. This is done by wrapping something round the limb tight enough to stop the blood flowing. If the offending zombie bite is on an arm or a leg, a tourniquet applied immediately would prevent the infection spreading through the blood system to the rest of the body, giving you time to amputate it. However, this approach can’t be applied to bites on any other parts of the body and it would need to be done almost the instant you got bitten. Even a few minutes delay would be enough for it to become ineffective.
The problem here is that given that a zombie disease is likely to be a new or emergent disease. This means that we’re unlikely to have enough time to study it and work out how it spreads within the human body. This makes the decision to amputate all the more difficult. To make things more complicated, some diseases will spread in more than one way. Lyme disease, for example, will often have a local infection that causes a rash around the bite site but will also spread systemically through the blood stream at the same time. If a zombie disease spreads like this, amputating a limb with a festering zombie bite on it will only give you false hope rather than preventing you turning into one of the walking dead.
The next thing to consider would be how you would actually amputate the affected area. You could try doing it yourself, but that’s going to be very difficult although admittedly it will be easier if it’s a finger rather than a leg. There’s also the risk of infection. To amputate a part of the human body would require the use of a very sharp blade and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you are quite likely to injury another part of your body, causing the infection to spread to it. This means that if you don’t take enough care, you could quickly end up being surrounded by a pile of separated limbs as you have to keep on cutting off one after another because of your carelessness. The same could happen if someone else is doing the amputation for you, especially if they’re not medically trained, resulting in a chain reaction of limb removals as one person after another becomes infected while amputating another’s limb as has to be treated in the same way.
If you’re still keen on this as a survival strategy, you also need to consider if you’d actually survive the amputation. If you’re limb is being hacked off by someone with little training and using the wrong instrument, there’s a very good chance you’re going to die sooner rather than later. In fact, unless you have a proper amputation kit to hand, with some nice sharp and sterile surgical instruments, that can be wielded by someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s unlikely that you’ll survive. A tourniquet can help increase your chances by preventing excessive blood loss, but only if it’s applied properly and that can be tricky for the uninitiated.
If you make it through the operation itself, there’s then the question of your longer term survival. In a post-apocalyptic world, it’s unlikely that you’d be amputating a limb in a nice, sterile operating theatre. Instead, it’s likely to be out in the germ-infested real world. This means it’s likely the wound will become infected and you’ll die a slow, lingering death as gangrene sets in. There’s also going to be issues around your lack of mobility and the fact that you’re likely to be a drain on all those around you, especially in the short-term, increasing the chances that all of you will be killed by marauding zombies.
So given all of the above, is amputation a viable survival option if you get bitten by a zombie? Well, it probably won’t work and it is very likely to kill you either immediately or at some point soon afterwards. Yet, even though your chances of surviving the amputation is slim, it’s better than the 100% chance of you joining the legions of the undead if you do nothing. So yes, it’s certainly an option, especially if you put in a bit of planning now rather than waiting until the dead start to rise and walk among us. This means making sure that you have enough antibiotics in your survival kit to see off any infections, adding in a tourniquet and the appropriate surgical tools, and, of course, making sure you learn how to use them (but I wouldn’t recommend practicing on yourself!).
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.