Soderbergh’s “Contagion” and What You Need to Know About Bird Flu

NOTE: We originally published this story in July when the trailer for this movie came out. However, since the movie opened this weekend, it seemed appropriate to rerun it now.

The first trailer for director Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming thriller Contagion was just released. The Academy-award winning director is known not only for his commercial films, such as Oceans Eleven and Erin Brockovich but also for indy films such as Sex, Lies and Videotape and Che. The movie, which stars Hollywood heavyweights such as Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, and Laurence Fishburne is an action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly bird flue outbreak and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with it.

Here’s the trailer:

Could this really happen? What do you need to know about Bird Flu?

Avian influenza (AI)–the bird flu–is a virus that infects wild birds (such as ducks, gulls, and shorebirds) and domestic poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). There is a flu for birds just as there is for humans and, as with people, some forms of the flu are worse than others.

AI is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds, and indirectly through contact with contaminated equipment and materials.

A strain of bird flu, called H5N1 can be spread from birds to people as a result of extensive direct contact with infected birds.

Rarely, an infected person can transmit the disease to another person, but so far, spread beyond one person has not been seen.

The symptoms of AI is similar to any other influenza– fever, sore throat, chills, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea. One feature seen in many patients is the development of lower respiratory tract (pneumonia) early in the illness. It is this complication that leads to deaths associated with this illness. AI is treated with the same antiviral medications used to treat severe cases of other forms of influenza.

AI is not transmissible by eating poultry or eggs that have been properly prepared.

Like all viruses, the H5N1 virus might evolve the ability to change, or mutate, into a form of the virus that is able to spread easily from person to person. As most people do not have immunity to this virus, it could lead to a pandemic, or a worldwide outbreak of the illness.

Scientists worldwide are keeping vigilant watch over cases of H5N1 disease as well as working to develop a vaccine against the disease.

Sources: Medline Plus, FDA, CDC, WHO.

Will you go to see this film, or do you think you’d be too creeped out by it?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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