The 1985 cult classic Return of the Living Dead is remembered best for giving us the first zombies ever to say “brains”, and the first to eat brains, but it also presented the hypothesis that ash from a cremated zombie could be highly infectious. What if ROTLD was on to something, and the source of the undead plague can’t be destroyed by fire? What if the sickness spreads even faster once ignited?

If we take as fact that the zombie pathogen is passed from one person to another through bodily fluids (bites, blood, etc), then the sickness must exist on the microbial level. Microbes are microscopic entities that live in the water you drink, the food you eat, and the air you breathe. Most microbes are helpful, but others have proven to be killers on a massive scale, including smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera.

There are some microbes that can survive fire. Extremophilic microbes actually thrive in extreme conditions that would kill other life forms. If the zombie microbe can survive in a human corpse long after death, there is no reason to think it couldn’t also survive a little heat.

Though it’s quite possible that the infectious agent in zombies is burned up right along with the body, it also might be possible that all or part of it would survive the fire. An inhaled particle, or an inadvertent rub of your eye, and you could be doomed to suffer a slow sickness, death, and reanimation without ever having come in direct contact with a zombie.

So the next time you find yourself in a catastrophic zombie outbreak and a member of your group wants to torch a shambling corpse or two, you might want to think twice about handing over the gas can.  If nothing else, you’ll prevent a flaming zombie from running around the neighborhood lighting everything else on fire.


  1. Joshua Wiebelhaus

    I don’t think this is much of a problem. If you watch the walking dead Rick is always getting splattered in the face with blood but not once does Rick get infected despite the fact that some of that blood must have gotten into his eyes at least once. If your killing zombies there is going to be a lot of blood, you trip and scrape your knee and later it gets some blood on it or you trip in a puddle of blood or some splatters in your mouth etc. Compared to a few flaming zombies not such a big issue besides I don’t like standing in smoke or next to burning human shaped figures so i don’t think I’ll have to worry about smoke as much as liquid blood.

  2. Unless the zombie virus is exactly what the name implies: a virus. And a virus can survive extreme heats such as fire

  3. Point of fact, there is a difference between a ‘microbe’ and a ‘microorganism’. Your article uses these terms interchangeably and they are not. All microorganisms are microbes, but not all microbes are microorganisms. Microbes describes a number of microscopic entities (both living and non-living) which includes microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, yeast, algae), viruses, prions, etc. Viruses, such as the flu virus, are NOT microorganisms as they are NOT alive. In addition, many microbes are acellular (without cells) such as viruses and prions. Microorganisms, however, are those microbes that are alive and are cellular. It is a subtle distinction to be sure, but one that needs to be pointed out.

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