"Attention Citizens: Beware the Zombie Plague. All deceased must be burned within six minutes of death to prevent re-animation."
- — Propaganda poster seen on Cadia
The Zombie Plague, also called the Curse of Unbelief, is a deadly, Warp-spawned viral infection that is spread by the forces of Chaos, and leads to the creation of hordes of infectious, undead zombies that threaten billions of people on many Imperial worlds near the Eye of Terror in the Segmentum Obscurus.
The first recorded incidence of the Zombie Plague in the 41st Millennium came in 757.M41 on the world of Hydra Minoris. A quarantine was imposed by the Imperial Navy, trapping 23 billion uninfected people alongside a rising tide of hungry and mindless undead.
The Zombie Plague is a Chaos infection created through the use of Chaos sorcery blessed by the Plague Lord Nurgle to alter a biological virus. The resulting physical symptoms spread rapidly before Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade and was heralded by the invasion of the Plague Fleets of the Chaos Champion Typhus.
This led to the rise of numerous Plague Zombies on Imperial worlds and also resulted in the formation of a new branch within the Imperial Inquisition known as the Ordo Sepulturum which was specifically tasked with dealing with the Zombie Plague and similar Chaos-infused biological threats to humanity.
The plague was a necrotic microorganism that physically degenerated those it infected, causing their skin and internal organs to rapidly rot until the moment of "death" at which time the Chaos energy within the virus reanimated the victim's corpse as a "zombie" whose only remaining drive was to feed on living flesh and so spread the infection.
The Chaos energy in the Zombie Plague virus allows a small portion of the victim's life essence to be retained by their body even after physical death has occurred.
However, every attempt at creating a stable "faith virus" that would allow wounded servants of the Imperium to live on as "good undead" like the Emperor or even allow the Emperor to be reborn in an undead form has led to mutation in the sample.
The zombie victims of the plague are noted to have a psychic connection created by the Chaos energy that exists within the virus and it has also been noted that psykers have the capacity to manipulate the pitiable decaying creatures that are spawned.
A common theory among Inquisitors of the Puritan Thorian philosophical persuasion is that the plague is an offshoot of the technology used to modify the Golden Throne to support the Emperor of Mankind's life functions by the Adeptus Mechanicus ten millennia ago. It may have been created by the Dark Mechanicum Tech-priests that reside within the Eye of Terror with the Chaos Space Marines of the Traitor Legions.
There have been numerous noted similarities between the Zombie Plague's ability to use the power of the Warp to reanimate a victim's corpse and the operation of the Golden Throne, which uses the power of the Warp to keep the Emperor of Mankind's body from completely dying. Increased study of the plague by Thorian Inquisitors has led them to believe that this research can help them understand the Emperor of Mankind's current state and how He might yet be reborn.
Once infection has occurred, the Zombie Plague proceeds through four basic symptomatic stages:
- The first symptoms of the infection are hard to discern. The skin becomes pallid and sickly-looking. The infected is overwhelmed by nausea and sees spots in front of their eyes. Green-coloured scabs may start to appear all over the body. From this point forward, the victim is highly infectious, and the pathogen can be spread by exposure to an infected individual's bodily fluids, such as blood and saliva.
- In the second stage, the victim's skin begins to tighten and harden, causing the veins to stand out. The scalp begins to shed hair as the follicles die and the viridian scabbing spreads more noticeably across the skin as the cellular necrosis accelerates. At this stage of the infection the victim is beyond hope of a cure and becomes dangerous to others as his or her sanity begins to be overwhelmed by uncontrollable, abnormal cravings for healthy flesh.
- By the time the plague has progressed to its third stage, its effects are no longer capable of being overlooked. The divine perfection of the human face is now marred by sunken cheeks, thin lips, necrotic white skin, rotting teeth and large areas of the epidermis that have decayed into vast swathes of seeping, pus-filled cysts. The cellular necrosis reaches the point that large portions of the body can now effectively be considered dead tissue.
- The final stage of the plague is truly horrible. Now essentially a mindless, walking corpse, the victim's advanced necrosis causes extremities to simply fall off, rotting veins bubble under parchment-thin dead skin, and final death through a shot to the head or dismemberment is the only release from the torment. Victims of the disease in this stage, colloquially known as "zombies," often congregate in large numbers as they seek out any lifeform that is not infected with the disease so that they can consume healthy flesh.
- Fydae Strain - Fydae Strain Plague Zombies, named for the outbreak of the disease that assaulted the mining settlemernt of Sutter's Rock in the Calixis Sector, first appear to be no more than gaunt, dead-eyed plague victims in soiled and blood-spattered clothing. However, this does little to dim the horror for friends and loved ones wracked with grief. As the outbreaks worsen and the Warp-spawned entities known as the Vile Savants themselves make an appearance, the Fydae Zombies decay at an unnaturally accelerated rate. They turn into horrific rotting husks of putrescent flesh, but are no less active or deadly for it.
- Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 147-150
- Gang War 3, "Hot from the Forges: Mail Order Catalog - Plague Zombies: Zombie Regiment," pp. 31-33
- Imperial Armour Volume Seven - The Siege of Vraks - Part Three, pg. 142
- Inquisitor: The Thorians Sourcebook by Gav Thorpe
- Necromunda: Outlanders Rulebook, pp. 81-82
- The Redeemer (Graphic Novel) written by Pat Mills and Debbie Gallagher and illustrated by Wayne Reynolds
- The Thirteenth Black Crusade (Sourcebook) by Andy Hoare, pp. 12-13
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 172
- Warhammer 40,000: Warlords of the Dark Millennium - Typhus, pp. 10, 28
- White Dwarf 200 (US), "Tales from the Underhive: B-Move Scenario Inspirations - Hive of the Living Dead & I Will Survive"
- White Dwarf 198 (US), "Scavvies: Background and Tactics - Plague Zombies," & "Zombie Master: Karloth Valois," pp. 55-58
- False Gods (Novel) by Graham McNeill, pg. 122