In the new film Contagion, a rapidly evolving virus threatens to wipe out global society and federal health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose staffers served as extras, must save the world from the killer outbreak.
While the movie depicts a make-believe widespread virus, both moviegoers and health officials might ask, What would I do if that happened?
U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Ali S. Khan has the actual job of helping to contain such an outbreak if it occurred.
Khan, who leads the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, admitted to a bit of Hollywood awe to MSNBC.
“I had fun chatting with Kate Winslet. I drew an epi curve for her,” he told reporters, referring to the graphic representation of infection cases used to track an epidemic. Actress Kate Winslet plays a CDC researcher in the movie.
Federal officials also shared a curiosity for what the procedure would be for the fictional, yet plausible, deadly outbreak.
“Does the CDC have a good-looking van with an electron microscope mounted inside? Do we have a CDC helicopter? Do we have the black suburbans?” Khan remarked. “Is CDC going to call in an air strike?”
The film's team caused a stir at the agency's Atlanta offices beginning about two years ago. “We were wondering and discussing what the disease might be and rumors are flying about,” Dave Daigle, an associate director for communications with the CDC's preparedness office, told MSNBC.
“If anyone knows, they have been sworn to secrecy. Most of us think it will not be a pandemic flu, or if it is, it will be mutated.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more than 500 people placed at county and state health departments working shoulder to shoulder with public health officials to track disease, Khan said.
He advised that local health departments manage most small outbreaks alone, but if something more widespread strikes, such as the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, the CDC will hear about it quickly.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, served frequently as the agency’s spokeswoman during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
Once a virus is identified, the CDC would work with pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine, manufacture it, test it for safety with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and then distribute it through local public health departments, Dr. William Schaffner, former board member of the Infectious Disease Society, told reporters.
WATCH the Contagion Trailer: