'Contagion' is now one of the most popular movies on iTunes because of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Here's how it compares to reality.
- A coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed at least 200 people and infected more than 9,700 since December.
- In the weeks since public-health officials reported the first coronavirus case, many people have searched for and watched the 2011 movie "Contagion."
- The film depicts a fictional worldwide pandemic that spreads from animals to people in Hong Kong, then kills tens of millions worldwide.
- Here's how the pandemic from the movie "Contagion" differs from the current Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.
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The 2011 film "Contagion" opens to the sound of a woman coughing. The universal sound of sickness, her cough is heavy and full of mucous. It comes from Beth Emhoff, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who is patient zero in a pandemic that kills at least 26 million people worldwide in less than a month.The fictional pandemic in "Contagion," called MEV-1 in the movie, is a hybrid of influenza and the deadly Nipah virus that emerged in Malaysia in the late 1990s. Advertisement
But because of the real and growing coronavirus outbreak, Google searches for "Contagion" skyrocketed last week. The number of Twitter users mentioning the movie in relation to the current outbreak did as well, and on January 28, "Contagion" was on iTunes' top-10 list of rented movies.
There are many stark differences between the spread of MEV-1 in the movie and the current coronavirus outbreak. Importantly, the coronavirus isn't currently considered a pandemic, though the World Health Organization (WHO) did declare it a global public-health emergency on Thursday.Since December 31, the coronavirus (whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV) has killed at least 200 people and infected more than 9,000 across 20 countries, including the US.
Health officials have documented person-to-person transmission of the virus in China, Japan, and recently the United States, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says "the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low."Still, there are a few notable parallels between the scenario in "Contagion" and current events. For one, the movie's MEV-1 virus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from animals to people. In the film, it spreads from a bat to a pig sold at an outdoor Chinese market, before hopping to Emhoff. According to experts, the novel coronavirus is also zoonotic disease that likely started in bats and infected people via an intermediary animal sold at a wet market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Here are all the ways "Contagion" differs from reality.Advertisement
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The movie's ending scene is revealed to be "day one" of the MEV-1 outbreak. It shows a logging company disturbing a bat, which flies out of the forest and into a pig farm, carrying a piece of banana.
The 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed 774 people, started in a similar manner. Chinese horseshoe bats passed the virus to civets sold at a wet market. People caught it from the civets.Advertisement
The opening scenes of "Contagion" depict day two of the virus' spread. A man in Hong Kong, China is the first to die from the illness, but a man in Tokyo and a woman in London die, too.
By day 29 of the pandemic in the movie, 26 million people worldwide were dead. Thursday was day 29 of the coronavirus outbreak, and more than 210 people have died.Advertisement
In "Contagion," Emhoff's husband, played by Matt Damon, survives the pandemic because he is immune to the fictional virus.
In the movie, the MEV-1 virus is highly contagious between people.Advertisement
In "Contagion," many infected patients experience seizures before dying. Wuhan coronavirus patients, by contrast, get coughs, fever, and pneumonialike symptoms.
According to Chinese researchers in Hong Kong, one person with the new coronavirus can pass it to three to five others — a statistic called the virus' R0 value.Advertisement
Fictional officials at the CDC and WHO in the movie are able to identify Emhoff as patient zero of the MEV-1 pandemic. But patient zero of the coronavirus outbreak has yet to be identified.
No infected patients in "Contagion" recover from the disease. But so far, 143 people in China, Japan, and Australia have recovered from the coronavirus.Advertisement
A fictional blogger in the movie, played by Jude Law, spreads misinformation, claiming that the MEV-1 virus was manufactured by drug companies to turn a profit.
The scenes in "Contagion" in which doctors identify similarities between the MEV-1 virus' genetic code and DNA from bats and pigs are pretty realistic.Advertisement
Doctors in the movie say a mutated strain of the MEV-1 virus killed hundreds of thousands of people on the African continent.
Currently, more than 50 million people across 16 Chinese cities are under some type of quarantine or travel restriction.Advertisement
In "Contagion," public-health officials trace the virus' movement between infected people and those with whom they had close contact. This method, called contact tracing, is real and used by epidemiologists to trace outbreaks.
The biggest inaccuracy in the movie "Contagion" is how quickly scientists are able to develop and produce a vaccine.Advertisement
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