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A woman dressed as a zombie marches in Greenwich Village's 2008 Halloween parade in New York. Though slow moving, zombies would spread quickly if their population was not controlled quickly, researchers found. (Dima Gavrysh/Associated Press)

Board up the windows of that abandoned hospital if you must, but if the dead ever come back to life as zombies and begin infecting the population, a group of Canadian researchers don't hold out much hope for our survival.

A group of University of Ottawa mathematics students and their professor came to their dire conclusion after developing a simple model similar to one researchers might use to track the spread of a pandemic.

The result is food for thought for those who worry the living dead might eat their brains.

"A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly," they write.

The research began as an exercise in mathematical disease modelling, said University of Ottawa assistant professor Robert J. Smith?, whose last name contains a question mark to distinguish his common name from that of other researchers.

Smith? asked his students to come up with their own scenario, and to consider the possibility that when tracking the spread of disease the dead might factor into the model. That advice, he said, likely was patient zero for the zombie scenario, the brainchild of students Joe Imad, Philip Munz and Ioan Hudea.

Scenario 'unlikely,' researchers say

While the authors said the model is an "unlikely" scenario if taken literally, Smith? said it could have real-world applications if applied to diseases with a dormant infection and provides a useful framework in instances when scientists are dealing with the outbreak of an unknown disease.

Key to the rapid spread of the zombie infection in the scenario is the assumption, based on popular films, that zombies are able to infect both living and the "newly deceased," giving them a steady supply of potential targets. Neither quarantines nor a cure for the zombie infection appear to stop the zombies from their eventual victory.

The researchers might have broken from Hollywood convention and been overly pessimistic, however, in their assumption that even a beheaded zombie could rise again if reinfected.

Smith? said the concern is addressed in the group's final scenario, in which the researchers outline a strategic eradication of zombies early in the outbreak, which resulted in the destruction of the zombies within 10 days.

As the researchers write in the paper, published in the journal Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, "the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often."