An Alarmingly Efficient Virus

The movie, Contagion, offers some infectious thrill to a high-paced race against time to save the world from a deadly virus. When a woman travels to Hong Kong on business, she contracts an illness that starts as a cough, but ends up stealing her life. Though it does not affect her husband at all, their son also contracts this strange flu, and he dies, as well. The symptoms involve coughing at the beginning, which progresses into more severe hacking; there is profuse sweating and dizziness that increases in intensity until the afflicted hits the ground, possibly seizing, and dies. The film portrays the spread of this unknown illness from person to person, until it grows to a city, state, and international level.
This all goes down during the course of 135 days, less than half a year, and the CDC is all the while working to save the human population being rapidly stricken by this contagion. Because the film incorporated the actual scientific organization that reacts to a situation like the one portrayed here, it was able to discuss the real science behind illness during portions of scientists’ discourse. The information given at these intervals was fairly factual, and throughout the plot progression, there are practical developments that bring up several good points about the way the world, scientifically and societally, works today.
It is among the earlier scenes that a lot of the virology was communicated. The scientists talked about fomites, which are inanimate objects that can serve as transmitters of infectious agents. They even made us in the class viewing the movie self-aware and uncomfortable with their talk of how easily microorganisms can be transmitted by touching various typical objects. They point out the number of times the average person touches their face each day, which is how the microorganism with which one comes into contact find most easily get into our systems- at which point every one of us in the class took our hands away from our faces. The number was near 5.5 thousand times per day, between two-four times a minute.
While this fact was sound, though startling, the information on the spreading rate for the disease in Contagion did not maintain the same degree of accuracy. The film brought up the concept of R-naught or “R0,” which indicates the number of people to whom each inflicted will likely pass on the disease during the contagious period. They stated in the movie that the virus had an r-nought of 2, which means two more people become sick for every one infected with the virus. The man who said this then went on to give off a series of numbers that did not add up sensibly. He was trying to demonstrate the level of impact this disease would have, but instead of adding up the numbers by doubling each sum, he was squaring it. He exponentiated the amount of people infected with the virus, skipping the steps between to blow it up to a ridiculous degree, rather than expressing the illness’ severe but more rational danger.
Despite this confusion, the movie brought up some credible ideas about the developments that accompany an epidemic. The filmmakers portrayed a practical spread of disease, and an interesting and rather plausible relief response to such an epidemic. They showed how the Internet could become a major hindrance as a mode of expression for those who are anti-science by depicting a blogger gaining credibility in the eyes of the public, only to dissuade them from taking their best chance by getting vaccinated, and for his own personal profit. The other realistic dilemmas to responding in such a crisis had presence in the plot, such as the deliberation on who should be first vaccinated and how people would react to a sudden crisis that is dropping bodies everywhere and throwing societal norms and etiquettes out the window. I thoroughly appreciated the deep thought that went into producing the varied and complex effects of such a wholly, globally impactful phenomenon as an epidemic occurring today, despite it being something that has never rocked the modern world. Although the disease progressed with a somewhat unlikely rapidity, and the discussion about it made it seem larger than life as well, the other factors of the film made up for this scientific lapse that is to be expected in most any movie.

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