As we live through a developing pandemic, some of us can’t help but compare it to the 2011 American thriller which some claim predicted Covid-19: “Contagion.”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, the film follows the spread of a virus transmitted when sick humans touch surfaces and leave virus behind that others can catch. Next comes the frantic attempts by public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the anarchy that unfolds amid a pandemic, and the ultimate introduction of a vaccine to stop the spread. Sound like a plot we’re in the middle of?
Its prescience was bolstered by Burns consulting with representatives of the World Health Organization on the ins and outs of infectious diseases, and by Kate Winslet working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand the lifestyle and character of an epidemiologist charged with leading the world through crisis.
The filmmakers also consulted medical experts including Dr. W. Ian Lipkin and Lawrence “Larry” Brilliant. Lipkin is the director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Health. He recently contracted the novel coronavirus.
Laurie Garrett also served as a consultant on the film because she wrote the 1994 book “The Coming Plague” and reported on multiple pandemics. In a 2001 article she wrote for CNN, Garrett described “Contagion”as “part fantasy, part reality and totally possible.”
Here is how the virus and drama of “Contagion” compares with the real life coronavirus pandemic as it currently stands.
The final scene in “Contagion” reveals that the fictional “MEV-1” virus originated from a pig that ate a piece of banana dropped by an infected bat escaping the destruction of its palm tree forest habitat in China.
That pig is then slaughtered and prepared by a chef who, without washing them first, shakes hands with Beth Emhoff (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), thus transmitting the virus to her. Emhoff becomes the “index case,” meaning she was the first identified case.
The origin of the novel coronavirus terrorizing us today is still a mystery to scientists. It will only be solved if they’re able to isolate the live virus in a suspected species (like in the movie), which can be difficult.
However, like “Contagion,” bats are considered by some epidemiologists to be the possible source of the coronavirus.
Zoologists, ecologists and disease experts have told CNN that human behaviors – such as destroying natural habitats – might be to blame for the transfer of the disease.
When bats are stressed, which can occur from destruction of their habitats, their typically strong immune system is challenged, which makes it harder to cope with pathogens they could usually fight off. This allows an increase in infections and the shedding of them.