Contagion

I first of all found Contagion a very entertaining movie. The directors did a great job balancing multiple plot lines while providing their audience with an illuminating account of the fallout from an unprecedented epidemic. Not only that, but the way the movie intertwines the human experience throughout the plot makes the film all the more realistic.

But enough of the film review. What I want to discuss in this blog article is the global severity of potential future epidemics. *Spoiler alert* at the end of the movie, we find out that the virus is caused by a presumably infected bat that flies into a pigs’ den, drops a piece of food that is eaten by a pig, and then that pig is brought to market and the infection spreads from there. Although the movie is just a movie, it doesn’t seem out of the question that diseases that already exist in nature could have the ability to mutate into dangerous microbes that could infect humans. After all, that is essentially what occurred with the H5N1 Avian Bird Flu Virus. According to the CDC, HPAI H5N1 viruses circulating among birds have evolved and are continuing to evolve into different subgroups of viruses, called “clades.” What if a pathogen similar to H5N1 mutated into something much more contagious, effecting many more humans? With the severity of this disease so great, are we prepared to handle such a crisis?

According to Contagion, we are not. The virus easily spread all over the world as the main character and “original case” travelled from Hong Kong to Chicago, then Minnesota, spreading the disease as she went. Because of the interconnectedness of the world, the speed at which the pathogen spread far outpaced the reaction from the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization. The film also highlighted the inefficiency of government oversight- a private doctor had to go against the CDC’s orders in order to recreate the virus and construct a vaccine. Who knows how long it would have taken if the CDC had effectively kept him from further testing on the virus.

Another potential risk the film describes is the relationship between government and private pharmaceutical companies in this situation. There is an obvious conflict of interests between the government hoping to maintain societal order and private industry pursuing profit, which in this circumstance would be quite large. Jude Law, a self proclaimed conspiracy theorist, is this conflict’s best example. He pretends to be sick in order to show that a drug named Forsynthia helps cure the disease. In the end however, we find out that his plot was mainly to help investors make money as the demand for Forsynthia skyrockets.

The movie also shows that the process of creating and introducing vaccines to the public is quite slow, taking more than three months to complete and costing millions of lives. Because of the government issued quarantines and dearth of essential supplies, the rule of law erodes into nothing, creating anarchy everywhere and leading to looting as well as murder. How does the threat of novel pathogens compare to that of the global problems we have discussed in the first half of this semester? Are there links between these hazards? How can we mitigate against the possibility of future pandemics? Should we be doing more to enhance our infrastructure and safety precautions against novel diseases? — Myles