In Jonathan Maberry’s nonfiction book Zombie CSU, Dr. Natalie Mtumbo of the World Health Organization suggests that the living zombies in 28 Days Later are in many ways less realistic than George Romero’s classic undead zombies. Dr. Mtumbo explains that a disease spreading instantly through the body goes against everything we know about the rules of pathology.

Echoing this point, neurologist Peter Lukacs explains:

“Every disease has an incubation period where the patient is asymptomatic. Even the common cold takes two to three days before making the infected person sick.”

So how long is the zombie incubation period? That’s the million dollar question.

Imagine if it isn’t several minutes or hours as suggested in popular fiction and film? What if it’s weeks, months, or even years? What if the infection has already spread, living in hosts all across the world, undetected? Waiting to be triggered by a specific strain of the flu, or some other seemingly harmless illness. Biding its time, infecting new hosts every day–your neighbor, coworker, or sibling.

If that’s the case, then the next great zombie pandemic may already be upon us. We just don’t know it yet.


  1. In “World War Z” (The book) The incubation time is 23 hours-4 days, depending on the bite. However, in The movie adaptation, the latency period is 12 SECONDS. In culture, the incubation time depends on the work. However, in science, I am more inclined to believe a latency period of at least 24 hours, due to the replication of the virus in the human body being slower in real life.

  2. just a question that might help us prepare for a “worst case senario,” does anyone know what the shortest incubation period for a virus is in humans? seems like that would be useful info on this topic. Not to say that a new virus couldn’t have a shorter incubation period but knowing how long it takes fast acting, already present virus’ to take over a human system could help us predict a worst case.

  3. “The Enemy” is a fantastic fictional novel about zombies by Charlie Higson. In that everyone over the age of 15 rapidly dies or becomes ill with a zombie virus (not undead zombies). But perhaps the virus that is “biding its time” exsists only in certain generations and now cannot spread except through bodily fluid?

  4. The debate over the incubation period for the infection forces me to think of a rather disheartening possibility; what if the infection has already spread to every human being on the planet and we don’t know it yet? Looking at the films by George Romero, we can actually see that everyone in his films are already infected by the disease. The actual catalyst for the transformation from human to zombie is death; regardless of if a human is shot, strangled, or bitten, when they die they reanimate shortly thereafter. It may well be a possibility that the bite of an infected does not actually transmit the reanimation disease, but some other deadly infection that simply kills the host allowing the true plague to manifest at the moment of expiration. If this model were to apply to an actual outbreak, then every single human could be a walking bomb just waiting for a stray bullet or glass shard. No one would be safe, no one would be free.

  5. What might be even worse would be for the first generation of infection to have a very long incubation period with each generations afterwards getting shorter. That way millions could be infected without knowing about it but once the outbreak happened, once bitten, people would become zombies quickly.

  6. you mean i could be infected and not know it? well if my little sibligs are infected we’re all screwed. damn pesky… *pushes my little brothers head away from my arm* “no!”

  7. solanum is only zombifing when in the blood, you can drink, eat, inhale, etc solanum.
    yes you will die, but you wont become a zombie, assuming you dont have a hole in your stomach, recent piercing, etc.
    it goes into the blood, when it reaches the brain it uses the grey matter as a catalyst to reproduce, and eaats the grey. they killing the person, and becoming a zombie.

    see the zombie survival guide, by max brooks.
    it will explain it all.

    and yes i am a part of this group, just havnt joined yet…

    • Couple thoughts on this –

      Solanum is a fictional sickness made up by Max Brooks. It does not exist. At most, it can be considered one theory of how zombies function, but it is not a theory based on any scientific research or study. As evidenced by all of his projects published after ZSG, Max Brooks is much more interested in fictional accounts of zombies, than in real scholarly work on how a zombie will function if/when it actually knocks on your door.

      That said, his fictional work is great, and Zombie Survival Guide was at the forefront of zombie research when it was written almost 15 years ago (and published in 2003). Fortunately for humanity, research advances with time.

  8. Scary, isn’t it?

    I explored that theme in a different way in my novel, PATIENT ZERO (St. Martins Griffin, 2009). In that book, terrorists deliberately create a highly (and rapidly) infectious zombie pathogen and weaponize it for use against America. The book has been optioned for TV by Sony and is in development.

    -Jonathan Maberry
    Author of ZOMBIE CSU

  9. holy m_f_@*!, if that is then we dn’t know who s already infected or not, that is really scary!

  10. The latency period would totally explain what happened to my husband. Thank you for bringing this brilliant explanation to the world’s attention.

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