“It’s figuring us out faster than we’re figuring it out.” -From the movie Contagion

This negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) shows recreated 1918 influenza virions. Courtesy of the CDC.


It’s flu season, and one thing that will motivate you to get a flu shot this year is going to see the #1 box office ranking movie Contagion.

The movie opened on September 9, 2011, and over the weekend made over 23 million dollars. The plot of the movie is about the threat of a fast-moving influenza virus with no known cure on the human population.

That’s exactly what happened in 1918 when the Spanish flu ransacked the globe.  Kevin Cunningham, author of Morgan Reynolds’s Diseases in History: Influenza, wrote that the flu “blazed for eighteen months and killed between 40 and 100 million human beings. Then it vanished.”

Healthy young adults became deathly ill in a matter of hours. A victim’s ears and lips turned blue.  Soon the skin turned the same color. As the disease advanced, the fingertips and feet turned black. Blood streamed from the nose and gums, and was coughed up in thick sputum that soaked the victim’s pillows and bed sheets. The lungs were virtually turned into pulp by the virus and the immune system’s attempt to kill it…. Sometimes it killed in weeks, sometimes less than twenty-four hours.

The most frightening part of Contagion is that an epidemic like the one in 1918 could happen again. Cunningham wrote:

Humanity has conquered or curbed many diseases in the last century. Influenza remains undefeated. It is an astonishingly complex adversary–wildly contagious, ever-changing and secretive, at times only aggravating, at other times a ferocious killer.

At the end of August, the New York Times reported that the United Nations have released a warning that H5N1, commonly known as bird flu, may be making a come back in Southeast Asia, and that the virus “poses unpredictable risks to human health.”

So go see Contagion and then go get a flu shot.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on Influenza and other dangerous diseases, check out the Morgan Reynolds series Diseases in History by Kevin Cunningham:

Diseases in History: Influenza (ISBN 9781599351056)

Diseases in History: Plague (ISBN9781599351025)

Diseases in History: HIV/AIDS (ISBN9781599351049)

Diseases in History: Malaria (ISBN 9781599351032)

Published in: on September 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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