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In AMC's The Walking Dead, how did the flu take out so much of the population? Me and people I've known have gotten plenty of them. The only time I hear of them killing people is extremely weak and frail children or elderly people. They are also not treatable via antibiotics AFAIK. The people seemed to be able to stay warm, have a ready supply of clean food and water, possibly vitamins too.

How would so many apparently healthy adults fall to a realistic strand of flu that exists in real life?

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Because plot... – ChrisH Jul 16 '14 at 14:29
1918 flu killed fast with the same symptoms. Coupled with the existing zombie virus everyone was already infected with – user18979 Feb 16 '15 at 23:12
It could very well be a new strain. New strains of diseases pop all the time! – user26491 Oct 4 '15 at 4:51
up vote 11 down vote accepted

From Wikipedia

Influenza spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics, resulting in about three to five million yearly cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 yearly deaths,[18] rising to millions in some pandemic years. In the 20th century three influenza pandemics occurred, each caused by the appearance of a new strain of the virus in humans, and killed tens of millions of people.

So by itself, Influenza is pretty nasty. Add to that the fact that everyone is already quite unhealthy and most likely hurt in one way or another... massively compromised immune systems... and the flu would be even worse. No medication? That's adding insult to injury. Now... the detail we don't know for sure... since everyone is infected, does that compromise their immune system even more?

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Fair enough. I guess the whole "applied phlebotinum" aspect ( could explain it away. What still gets me is why a doctor/vet would advise antibiotics for a viral infection. I'm surprised he didn't recommend antiviral meds or just stuff to remedy the symptoms. – DevNull Jul 15 '14 at 20:35
Any medication they could go and look for is a bonus... but he's going to send people looking for the most common medicine that would be the most "helpful". I put that in quotes, because looking for medicine that could save certain characters is more of a plot device than an exercise in logic. Audience hears antibiotic, they think medicine that is the cure. However... in random searches, you'd probably be more likely to find antibiotics. – Bon Gart Jul 15 '14 at 20:39
YEah, that would be useful in general. Based on the context, it seemed as if he planned to use it specifically. – DevNull Jul 15 '14 at 20:42
@Dogbert "What still gets me is why a doctor/vet would advise antibiotics for a viral infection." Antibiotics are taken during viral infections primarily to prevent many potential secondary infections that may be far more deadly due to the weakened state. A simple cut or nearby sneeze can introduce many dangerous microbial pathogens. – user2338816 Jul 16 '14 at 2:37

I don't think the virus was just supposed to be a regular flu, I think it was supposed to be some form of zombie Swine Flu, and here's why:

  • The virus was zoonotic as it infected and killed Violet, the pig they were keeping, just before the first infections in the prison:

    Violet the pig

  • Zombies are also infected with the virus:

    Infected zombie

  • In 2009 (just around when season 4 was being written) there were a lot of media panic about Swine Flu.

  • Hershel didn't get sick, despite being in contact with everyone that was, which fits with this:

    Existing vaccines against seasonal flu provide no protection against swine flu, A study at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in May 2009 found that children had no preexisting immunity to the new strain but that adults, particularly those over 60, had some degree of immunity

  • As Wiki states:

    Some patients experience severe respiratory symptoms. (The H5N1 virus is also able to infect cells deep in the lungs with receptor type a2-3 but cannot infect cells with receptor type a2-6 making it less contagious than H1N1/09.)

    Which makes sense as in the show people die from coughing up blood.

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I completely did not get the reference of that same biter appearing multiple times until just now. Thanks! – DevNull Jul 15 '14 at 20:47
That would indeed be a nasty strain... and would fit historically with new strains being extra deadly. – Bon Gart Jul 15 '14 at 20:51
I agree with this entirely; the flu is a strain that is virulent enough to have surpassed the groups collective immune system, and has incubated in the pigs. The environment the survivors created for themselves in the prison was tantamount to a Petri-dish. – John Smith Optional Jul 15 '14 at 22:47
"Zombies are also infected with the virus" .... isn't it possible / more likely that the zombie shown is not infected but WAS infected when it was alive, and the blood simply remained there through the process of becoming a zombie? I feel if zombies could "get" it, then many more zombies would have it. – TheOneWhoPrograms Jul 16 '14 at 10:51
@TheOneWhoPrograms There were loads of Zombies with it, in 4x04-Indifference when they're out looking for meds Bob says "They're infected, same as at the prison" – Crow T Robot Jul 16 '14 at 15:24

Well Another suggestion is the Actual Infection mentioned in the program which is actually called Pneumococcal by what Dr S Said.

Where it is not actually classed as the flu.

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The modern flu is fought through maintaining a stress free environment, bed rest aka inactivity, and keeping yourself clean, aka preventing secondary infections from overwhelming an already occupied/compromised immune system. Secondary infections cause the immune system to divide it's attention. Stress, a mental component, has a high psychosomatic component, resulting in a handicapped immune response. Mind over matter, essentially the placebo effect, is real. Activity wears down body resources, like glucose levels, which are crucial to fighting infections. A tired, afraid person will take longer to fight an infection then someone well rested and calm. It's not just that it's the flu, but the entirety of the circumstances that increases the death toll.

Remember, everyone in the Walking dead is already infected with the Zombie virus. As long as they die with their heads intact they will reanimate. As such, the immune system is already dealing with more than one infection at the time they get the flu. Immuocompromised

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