Review: It’s Flu Season in The Walking Dead

By Sony Salzman
BU News Service

America’s favorite zombie show, The Walking Dead, was feeling a little anemic at the end of season 3. Actually, the grand finale of season 3 was a total letdown, but new showrunner Scott Gimple seems to have put new life into the show.

To recap, Rick’s ragtag group of survivors was gearing up for epic war when Governor crazy-eye kills almost all of his own people, for reasons unknown. The weird anti-climax in season 3 brings us to the start of season 4, where Rick and our team have established an almost-normal life at the prison. Rick has transformed from zombie slayer to pig farmer, his son Carl is acting like less of a psychopath, Tyreese has a girlfriend and people are generally feeling peachy.

But any moment of happiness in TWD is merely an ominous sign of chaos to come. And sure enough, at the end of episode 1, the nerdy new guy comes down with a pretty serious case of the sniffles, coughing into the prison’s water supply before croaking and waking up as a zombie. Clearly, chaos ensues when zombie-nerd wanders around the prison, munching on former friends (and expendable actors). The nerdy kid turned out to have the same weird flu that was killing off Rick’s cute pigs.

A swine flu outbreak, inside a prison, inside a zombie apocalypse? Go on…

In episode 4, swine flu sweeps through the prison community, and the survivors set up a quarantine. The decision to infuse a traditional disease horror story, like Contagion or Outbreak, within a zombie apocalypse was pretty inspired. Especially now that characters I love are sick, it’s pulling at my heartstrings and keeping me glued to my seat.

However, reading the post-show coverage online reveals some common misconceptions about the real-life (non-zombie) flu. If the show’s writers were indeed trying to depict H5N1 (swine flu), they got some things right, and some things wrong. Here were the top two in my book:


1. People can take animal meds – TRUE

The show patriarch’s sends a rescue team to a veterinary hospital for antibiotics. Some reviewers seemed shocked/dubious that you can use animal drugs on people, but in fact, this is 100% plausible. In fact, some physicians in rural areas actually order antibiotics and antiviral drugs meant for animals because they are less expensive than the people-packaged version.


2. Swine flu mostly kills the very young and very old – FALSE

Once the flu breaks out in full force, the leaders decide to quarantine the very old and very young. This makes sense when you’re thinking about typical flu, but if the writers were really trying to depict swine flu here (and if not, then why all the hubbub about Rick’s sick pigs?), they got this count wrong. In fact, the H5N1 outbreak of 2009, which may have killed as many as 400,000 people around the world according to new estimates, actually affected the young and healthy.

One-Way Ticket to Mars

By Poncie Rutsch
BU News Service

It’s official: applications for the esteemed colonial voyage to Mars are now competitive. And your chances of getting picked are worse than your chances at getting into every Ivy League college…and also slightly worse than getting struck by lighting in your lifetime.

That’s right. Last year, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced his plan to set up a colony on Mars by 2023. This year, they’re picking a total of 24 people to spend the next ten years training for said journey.

Four people from those 24 will embark on a seven-month journey in 2022. They’ll arrive at Mars in 2023, land in a small vehicle and leave the brunt of their ship in space (too heavy to land). They’ll live in inflatable dwellings with some air and food supplies sent over in advance.

Lansdorp and company will choose location of the settlement based on how much ice there is in the soil. They’ll melt this ice for water and break it apart via electrolysis for oxygen to breathe.

Of course, the documentation starts once Lansdorp and his team start training these 24 people. Reality TV show, 24/7/365. Of course, it won’t exactly be “live” since the delay between Mars and earth is anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes. Supposedly, this TV publicity will pay for most of the funding.

Regarding that 22-minute delay, that means if any sort of emergency takes place, Houston won’t know there’s a problem for 22 minutes. Sending help (via rocketship, of course) will take six months.

Oh yeah, but once you go, you can’t come back. Also, no skyping or phone calls. Only emails, texts, and the occasional video voicemail. Mind you, the delay would make a live conversation a little ridiculous.

Honestly, I don’t understand how 200,000 people have signed up. It’s one thing to go to space but it’s another to go to space and never return. It’s giving up everyone you’ve ever known. But then again, people hide out in Antarctica all the time, so I’m just the wrong demographic.

Mars One thought about this:

“However, there are individuals for whom traveling to Mars has been a dream for their entire life. They relish the challenge. Not unlike the ancient Chinese, Micronesians, and untold Africans, the Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe, who left everything behind to spend the majority of their lives at sea, a one-way mission to Mars is about exploring a new world and the opportunity to conduct the most revolutionary research ever conceived, to build a new home for humans on another planet.”

The deeper question throughout all this though is why do we do it? Do we do it to learn, or are we just doing it because we can?

Space research is important, but in order to research, we don’t necessarily have to go there ourselves. The Mars rovers have shown tremendous success – and we don’t have to feed them on the other side.

Perhaps someday it will be critical to repopulate Mars; when we destroy our own planet, for example. But until then, this seems like a classic case of science because we can…and really expensive science because we can, at that.

Needless to say, I’ll be glued to the live stream.

Mars road map of the future. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Bruce Irving.
Mars road map of the future. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Bruce Irving.