In the soon to be released movie "Contagion," the plot starts with a lethal airborne virus that kills within days rapidly spreading around the world.
There is no known treatment and no vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have hired an international team of doctors to find a cure, but the virus is mutating faster than they can figure it out.
Panic is spreading even faster. In the United States, the National Guard has been called out to maintain order. The president has been moved to a secure location underground.
But, how realistic is the plot of the movie "Contagion," to be released in theatres on Friday?
The first victim, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is taken to a hospital in Minneapolis after flying home from a business trip in Hong Kong and feeling unwell. Two days later she is dead.
Did she catch the virus on her flight home when an infected person coughed nearby? When she shook hands at her business meeting? When she touched a door handle, a water fountain, a credit card or peanuts in a snack bowl?
Two Canadian researchers are at the forefront of preparing for future global infectious disease outbreaks – like the one depicted in "Contagion" – by coupling their respective areas of scientific research and technology.
“In an increasingly globalized world, the scenario of a severe pandemic is entirely plausible,” said Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease physician and scientist at St. Michael's Hospital and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. “Pandemics have been occurring throughout history and will inevitably occur again. It would be naïve for us to assume that future pandemics will never be. HealthMap is designed to enable the public to engage at their level of comfort – whether it be searching a location for the latest outbreak information or submitting first-hand information to be included on our map. Either way, it empowers people to become an active participant in the public health place.”
But despite the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” prevention is a tougher sell.
Drs. Khan and Brownstein highlight the intersection of several phenomena that are likely contributing to the risks of future global infectious disease threats. These include human population growth, a growing link between human health and animal health, global climate change, international air travel, mass gatherings, the emergence of highly drug resistant microbes and gaps in public health capacity in the world.
While individuals may feel overwhelmed by the scale of these factors, awareness of how they are related to infectious diseases can foster collective action that reduces the risk of threats like the one that plays out in "Contagion." To learn about the makings of a pandemic and how, as global citizens, we can reduce their risks visit www.biodiaspora.com/pandemic and www.takepart.com/contagion.
About St. Michael’s Hospital
St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.