Yea, it could happen.
“Contagion,” a Hollywood thriller that opened last weekend, rocketed to No. 1 at the box office through its gripping tale of a fictional global epidemic driven by a new kind of virus. Audiences have gasped in horror at what happens to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Before it was out, the movie made real-life disease investigators anxious, too, though for a different reason: They had worried the filmmakers would take so many artistic liberties with the science that the result would be an incredible movie that was … not credible.
Well, cue the applause.
“It’s very plausible,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would investigate such an outbreak.
A new virus jumping from animals to humans? Nothing fictional about that. Global spread of a disease in a few days? In this age of jet travel, absolutely. A societal meltdown if things get bad? Plan on it.
But he also chafed at the idea that this kind of global epidemic won’t occur just because we haven’t seen one before. “Nobody expected Nipah. Nobody expected HIV. Nobody expected SARS,” he said.
In their discussions about the movie this week, some CDC officials are making a point of noting that recent budget cuts are threatening their ability and that of state and local health departments to respond as well as the movie portrays. Just one CDC investigator assigned to the scene of a major outbreak?
“Maybe this reflects the future,” said Dr. Ali Khan, the agency’s director of emergency preparedness.