Friday, March 1, 2013

Blog Assignment 5 - Contagion

This week’s blog assignment focused on the 2011 hit movie “Contagion”. This movie shows the United States health care system in action as a small disease spreads worldwide. The virus is traced back to China and it quickly spreads to the United States through human interaction. The movie follows various public health practitioners to show the many steps of a public health system. As the disease continues to spread, the movie shows how the health system must adapt and what it must do in times of disaster. At the end of the movie, the audience learns that the disease started with bat feces and ended up causing complete chaos worldwide. I really enjoyed watching this movie. It helped me understand actually how much work is put into a health system like ours. Yes, this movie was a bit exaggerated, but it is true that an epidemic like this could occur. It was interesting to see how various types of people reacted to the disease and how they planned on doing something about it.

A few public health terms directly relate to this movie in a big way. An outbreak is when the number of cases recorded of a disease is more than the expected number. This term relates to the movie “Contagion” because the virus started in one person and rapidly spread across the globe, ending up an epidemic. An outbreak investigation is a study of the disease; that is, the causes, symptoms, number of cases, etc. This term relates to the movie because it is essentially the whole plot. “Contagion” spends the majority of the movie showing the problem, portraying the symptoms, studying the disease, and brainstorming ways to stop the epidemic. In the movie, an epidemiologist goes to China to research the disease while researchers stay in the United States to study the magnitude of the epidemic and begin to devise the next steps that should be taken to stop it. The next term, isolation, means the separation of those people who are infected with the disease from the people who are not. In “Contagion”, various patients who were already infected were put in a gymnasium so that they were kept away from the patients who were still healthy. This was the very first precautionary step that the health system took to begin to stop the epidemic. The final term, quarantine, is when people who may have been exposed to the certain disease are separated from the outside world to observe whether or not they will contract the disease. In the movie, the main character, the man whose wife and stepson die, is quarantined, but the researchers discover he is immune.

Since 9/11, Public Health Preparedness has certainly become an important topic in our nation because when something unexpected occurs, the public health system must act quickly. This issue is apparent in “Contagion” because when the outbreak occurs, the population goes into a state of panic and chaos. I believe that there are a few instances in the movie where the public health agencies could have been more “prepared”. For example, the government utilized a “first come, first served” system to distribute the low amount of food portions to the town residents. This could have been better done because there are many different factors that cause a sort of “unfairness” in the society. The public health agencies should try to lessen those factors to create a more even access to the food portions, for example, among the population. Another situation in the movie that could have been done better is the way the government distributed the vaccines. The government implemented a lottery style system that used birthdays to determine who would get the limited number of vaccines for that day. Although this type of system is a randomized one, the public health agencies could have distributed the vaccines to those individuals who needed it most. Addressing these issues and solving them would improve the overall effectiveness of the public health system of our nation.


  1. You did a great job of summarizing the film and I also found its representation of this kind of epidemic interesting. I think you're right that the food should have been distributed in a better way, there should have been a more fair way of doing this. But I disagree about the vaccinations. I think that they wanted to get the vaccinations out as soon as they could and at the fastest rate that they could based on how fast the vaccination could be produced. I think the lottery was the best and fairest way to do this. Really everyone needed the vaccination (except Matt Damon's character - he was already immune), and I think trying to determine who needed it more over others would have taken too much time and would've been too controversial, causing more chaos than what was already present. Just my opinion, but good post overall.

  2. Many of the concepts in question 2 are covered in the infectious disease lecture.

    Outbreak: A number of cases of a particular disease exceeds the expected for a given time, place and population.

    Outbreak investigation:
    1. Confirm existence of outbreak
    2. Verify diagnosis
    3. Define a case and count cases
    4. Perform descriptive epidemiology
    5. Define population at risk
    6. Develop hypothesis for source and spread
    7. Evaluate hypothesis
    8. Reconsider/redefine hypothesis
    9. Implement control measures
    10. Communicate findings

    Isolation: The measures taken to prevent the spread of disease from an individual with the disease.

    Quarantine: The measures taken to prevent the spread of a disease (and analyze for the development of disease) from an individual who may have been exposed.

    Thanks so much for your post!

    And to add my two cents - matters of equitable distribution are dicey. They are certainly at play in the different schemes used to distribute organs. It is an ethically difficult matter.