AMERICAN thriller film “Contagion” explored the effects on social stability of a pandemic, specifically from a fomite-transmitted virus, an object or substance that is capable of carrying germs or parasites to cause contagion.

The story started on the second day of the virus, with only one carrier in the guise of a certain Beth Emhoff, who just returned from Hong Kong.

The virus, however, spread within a short span of time, as when she arrived home in Minneapolis, where she was already displaying flu-like symptoms. 
Two days after, she was rushed to the hospital by her husband after she experienced seizures, but died upon arrival due to an unknown disease that even doctors cannot diagnose.

During that event, the medical and scientific world panicked after realizing that the disease has already infected some four or more people during the first case.

Fear and anxiety were widespread in the medical community, especially when doctors in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) perceived the unknown disease to be a bioweapon, as the contagion occurred during Thanksgiving weekend.

A CDC doctor finds out that the virus, labelled MEV-1, contains genetic material from pig and bat diseases, which the doctor uses to produce a vaccine.

With the vaccine being manufactured to only a few million, almost half percent of the world’s population died. Social distancing forced establishments such as airports, shopping malls, schools, and supermarkets to close down to prevent the further spread of MEV-1.

In the midst of all that, a conspiracy-minded freelance journalist spread rumors that forsythia, an Asian flower, is an alternative medicine for the virus.

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An epidemiologist from the World Health Organization (WHO) later concluded that patient zero is Emhoff, who was in Hong Kong. MEV-1 was also categorized along with AH1N1 and Aids as one the deadliest virus to infect mankind.

The movie ends by providing the origin of the virus. Emhoff’s mining corporation is seen clearing a forest and knocks down a tree where fruit bats are nesting in. The bat eats a banana from a nearby tree and drops the fruit in a pig sty. A pig consumes the banana and is sent for slaughter in a Hong Kong restaurant. The chef who prepares the pig did not wash his hands and shook his hands with Emhoff.

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The movie explores the science of a pandemic, its social transgression and the process of tracing a contagion.

A pandemic, according to WHO, can only be classified if a new disease, or at least an old disease resurfacing, spreads. It can also be classified as a pandemic if the disease can cause serious illnesses to humans, and spreads easily and sustainably among humans.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general ad interim for Health Security and Environment of WHO, said a pandemic is a global outbreak—meaning “everybody is the agent of a disease, [and] anyone is a carrier and transmitter.”

The movie, on the other hand, followed proper scientific procedures when handling a pandemic.

It starts with analyzing the damage of the disease, and then assessing the necessary plan of action. Usually, the disease maybe a new strain, a combination of old viruses, or an old virus strain resurfacing. Scientists then harness the virus strain and looks for possible antibodies within the virus to counter it.   

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Cholera, influenza, smallpox, and malaria are just some of the diseases that were later classified as a pandemic when it spread all over the world. The most recent pandemic to hit the world were the HIV and the H1N1.

H1N1 virus was also the last pandemic to hit the country preceding the avian influenza virus.

“Contagion” also focused on social transgression because of the disease. The situation showed that a pandemic can damage familial relations due to the stress and fear that everybody experiences.

According to the Preparedness and Response Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza of the Department of Health, social distancing is recommended to avoid the spread of similar diseases. 

Although diseases can infect everybody, there are still some individuals who are immune to such diseases. In the movie, Emhoff›s husband was seemingly immune to the MEV-1 virus; the basic explanation is that an individual›s immune system can override a virulent virus attack.

One of the movies mistakes, however, was the seemingly accelerated manufacturing and production of the vaccines. That is impossible because it takes several months for the clinical tests on animal subjects, or human subjects in some instances. The dengue fever vaccine, for example, took several years to produce and manufacture. Until now, the vaccines are still undergoing tests before the projected distribution in the Philippines in 2014.

The movie also cited the instance that a pandemic can be used for biological warfare. In some instances in history, diseases were used by countries to obliterate their enemy nations, such as in the case in the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), wherein the Imperial Japanese army used plague fleas and infected clothing as bombs which infected some 4,000 Chinese civilians with anthrax and cholera. The movie did not exaggerate that a crisis such as pandemic may break around the world. After all, caution and prevention are still the best options for everybody. Antonio Ramon H. Royandoyan

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