In a news cycle marked by political upheaval, and tragic celebrity deaths, a medical scare straight out of a science fiction script is dominating headlines around the world. A deadly new coronavirus is quickly spreading throughout China, with multiple diagnoses also occurring in other countries including the United States.
The public’s response to the medical development has been swift — and a little odd: streaming films about pandemics. The 2011 science thriller Contagion is viewers’ top disaster flick of choice. In the film (which boasts an impressive ensemble cast including Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, and Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman unknowingly catches what she thinks is a common cold during a “business trip” (read: secret rendezvous with her lover) to Hong Kong. Upon her return to the United States, the woman spreads her germs, and everyone who has come in contact with her — including her young son — is killed by what scientists call Meningoencephalitis Virus One (MEV-1).
Contagion is a fictive work that came out almost ten years ago, but its twisty plot has definitely taken on new relevance in the wake of the coronavirus. A decade after its release, the film has shot up to number 15 on the iTunes movie rental chart.
So, why exactly are people reaching back into the archives to stream the movie? It’s likely because the coronavirus that we’re hearing about sounds scarily similar to the fictional MEV-1 that the experts in Contagion were battling. In the film, MEV-1 has the genetic material of pig and bat viruses are transmitted to Paltrow’s character after she shakes hands with a chef who touched a pig infected with the disease. In real life, the coronavirus has been traced to a group of people who visited a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Additionally, the fictional MEV-1 and the coronavirus share similar symptoms; warning signs of the illnesses include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Terrified of the outbreak? You’re not alone — just last week, I willingly quarantined myself inside of my apartment for three whole days after coming down with the flu in fear of possibly having caught the coronavirus (I’m fine, thank you for asking). But knowledge is power, and thankfully, Netflix just released a helpful new docuseries that might put your mind at ease.
Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak thoroughly breaks down some of history’s deadliest outbreaks, exploring the roots of pandemics like the medieval plague and ebola. Backed by science, the series also provides important tips for limiting the spread of such deadly illnesses. One expert emphasizes the 3 C's: communication, coordination, and collaboration. In order to isolate the virus and find out a way to treat it, the 3 C's must be enacted on both a macro and micro scale — we might be doomed otherwise.
But don't let the scary news reports or even the world's extensive history of pandemics frighten you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are working overtime to contain the coronavirus. In the meantime, keep yourself and others safe. Always wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and most importantly, please just stay home if you're feeling under the weather.