Zombie Bite - Would Amputation Work?

It’s a common trope in zombie films to have a character with a bite wound perform an emergency amputation of the limb, and have a chance at survival. However, when I was anesthetized for an operation I felt the numbness creep up my arm quite rapidly. Within 10 seconds, it had gone from my wrist to my shoulder, and I lost consciousness by the 20 second mark. Would a pathogen be carried at a similar speed? What about a glancing surface cut that contaminates small capillaries vs one that hits an artery or large vessel?

Moved to IMHO from GQ.

General Questions Moderator

It depends on the nature of the fictional pathogen. Something that’s carried by blood would be everywhere in seconds, so amputation is useless. Something that travels up the nerves to the brain on the other hand could potentially be stopped by amputation; I recall reading that rabies can be theoretically* stopped that way, if it’s a limb that is bitten.

*The problem being that we have better methods these days, and even if we didn’t, unless you know the person is infected you’d risk cutting off a limb for nothing.

Is that true? Even snake venom doesn’t work that fast, and it’s in their interest for venom to work fast. Also, what can travel up the nerves, other than nerve signals?

In Max Brook’s seminal zombie survival guide he says that immediate amputation of a bitten extremity has (IIRC) a 10% chance of success.

In the Walking Dead universe it’s pretty effective in the TV series; Hershel is bitten in the ankle and has his leg immediately amputated by Rick with an axe…which he has been using as an weapon against zombies. Hmmm. Anyway, he passes out but survives.

In the Walking Dead video game you can choose to cut off your forearm after being bitten in the wrist. However some time has lapsed between the bite and amputation, so it doesn’t work. The main difference though is that you don’t black out as much if you amputate the arm. You also encounter a zombie with one arm so you’re not the only one to try it and fail.

Perhaps it depends on the depth and location? I was injected directly in a large vein, so the anesthetics were carried through the body rapidly. Maybe a snake bite doesn’t penetrate deep enough to immediately reach the larger vessels.

Need answers fast?:eek:

In Day of The Dead, it seemed to work, or at least slow the spread(The amputee seemed in better health than most bitees when he was the buffet on the elevator.)

The infection travels at the speed of plot. In Dawn of the Dead Roger lasts days after being bite; in Karen from Nigh of the Living Dead lasted only a few hours. Of course one was a child and the other a grown man.

Well, I just threw out “seconds” as a rough estimate due to the fact that blood is moving. That said, venom also needs time to physically act on its target; I was speaking merely on how fast it would take contamination to spread throughout the bloodstream, not how fast it would take to actually work.


If it’s a disease of the blood, then probably not.
If it’s a disease that spreads through skin infection, you might have a chance.
If it’s a curse, then you’re screwed.

To give some specific examples: Toxins like tetanus and botulism travel through the nerves, that’s how they cause paralysis.

The classic example of a virus that travels through the nerves is rabies virus.

A classic example of a bacteria that hitchhikes through the nerves is Listeria monocytogenes, or the cause of listeriosis.

In one of the Corto Maltese stories, a guy is bitten in the upper arm by a venomous snake, and, acting quickly, uses his pistol and blows away a big hunk of the muscle where he was bitten, I guess in the theory that the venom is still all pooled up there.

Would that work? It seems really wrong…