'Contagion' is one of the most popular thrillers on iTunes because of the coronavirus outbreak. Here's how the film compares to reality.
The coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed at least 2,800 people and infected more than 84,000 since December. In the two month since public-health officials reported the first coronavirus case, many people have streamed the 2011 movie "Contagion." The film depicts a fictional pandemic that spreads from animals to people in Hong Kong, then kills tens of millions worldwide. Here's how the pandemic from the movie differs from the coronavirus outbreak. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The 2011 film "Contagion" opens to the sound of a woman coughing. The universal sound of sickness, the 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, is a portrayed as a hybrid of influenza and the deadly Nipah virus that emerged in Malaysia in the late 1990s. At the end of January, because of the current coronavirus outbreak, Google searches for "Contagion" skyrocketed, as did the number of Twitter users mentioning the movie. "Contagion" is currently one of the top thrillers on iTunes. The spread of MEV-1 in the movie and the coronavirus epidemic differ in many ways. Importantly, the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn't consider the coronavirus a pandemic yet. Since December 31, the virus has killed at least 2,800 people and infected more than 84,000, mostly in China. It has spread to 56 other countries. Still, there are some 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 new coronavirus is also zoonotic disease that started in bats. It likely jumped to people via an intermediary species. Here are all the ways "Contagion" differs from reality.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 bat drops the fruit (presumably infected with the virus), and a piglet eats it. The pig is later sold to a market vendor, who then sells the butchered swine to a casino restaurant in Hong Kong. The chef prepares the pork before shaking hands with Emhoff, infecting her and kick-starting the pandemic. This is akin to the way the Nipah virus spread to people in Malaysia and India. The 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed 774 people, started in a similar manner. Chinese horseshoe bats passed the virus to civets. People then caught it from civets sold at a wet market.
In the case of the new coronavirus, the process was likely similar. Genetic studies have all but confirmed that the coronavirus originated in bats. Experts aren't sure which animal species served as the virus' intermediary between bats and people, but pigs, civets, and pangolins are the most likely. 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.
The first person to die of the new coronavirus, a 61-year-old Wuhan resident, died 11 days after the first case was reported. The virus didn't spread outside of China until January 13, two weeks into the outbreak. Cases have since been documented in 56 countries beyond China. By day 29 of the pandemic in the movie, 26 million people worldwide were dead. January 30 was day 29 of the coronavirus outbreak, and more than 210 people had died at that point.
In the last month, the coronavirus death toll has jumped to more than 2,800. In "Contagion," Emhoff's husband, played by Matt Damon, survives the pandemic because he is immune to the fictional virus.
The concept of individual immunity doesn't apply in the case of coronaviruses, Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist at Imperial College London, told The Telegraph. "[With the] flu virus you become immune, but there are lots of different viruses circulating," he said. "Coronaviruses don't evolve in the same way as flu with lots of different strains, but equally our body doesn't generate very good immunity." According to Chinese health authorities, even people who have gotten the new coronavirus and recovered can get it again in the future — the body does not necessarily become permanently immune after infection. In the movie, the MEV-1 virus spreads via close contact and surfaces touched by infected patients.
Paltrow's character infects the Tokyo man who died on day two after blowing on dice he holds in his hands at a casino. She also passes it to a person who cleans up a glass she'd used and another who picks up her phone. In the case of coronaviruses, viral particles can't survive for long on surfaces. According to the WHO, packages and letters from countries with high case totals are safe. "There is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," the CDC said. Instead, the coronavirus spreads via droplets passed when infected people cough or sneeze. In "Contagion," many infected patients experience seizures before dying. Coronavirus patients, by contrast, get fever, coughs, and pneumonialike symptoms.
MEV-1 affects everyone equally in the movie — it kills the Emhoffs' son as quickly as it kills Beth. But about 80% of people who died of the new virus in China were older than 60, and 75% had other medical issues, according to a recent report from China's National Health Commission. A study of 17 patients who died from coronavirus complications reported that their median age was around 75. Many had health problems like high blood pressure and Parkinson's disease. Other studies have estimated the average ages of infected patients to be between 47 and 55. The largest coronavirus study to date, which examined 72,000 cases in China, revealed that more than 75% of infected patients were between 30 and 69. An average person with the new coronavirus passes it to two to three others — a statistic called the virus' R0 value.
On day six of the movie's MEV-1 pandemic, doctors discuss what the virus' R0 value might be. 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.
On December 31, Chinese officials alerted the WHO to several cases of an unknown pneumonia-like virus in Wuhan. By the next day, the number of cases had jumped to 41, so it's unclear which patient first contracted the virus. No infected patients in "Contagion" recover from the disease. But so far, 36,688 people in at least 25 countries have recovered from the coronavirus.
According to Todd Ellerin, a doctor and contributing writer at Harvard Health Publishing, "many people recover within a few days" from the coronavirus. 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.
One homeland-security agent in the movie also wonders whether the virus is a terrorist weapon. Neither of those theories turn out to hold water. Misinformation has spread during the current outbreak as well — oregano oil will not cure it, nor will drinking bleach. Republican senator Tom Cotten has persistently resurfaced a debunked conspiracy theory that the coronavirus came from Chinese scientists at a secret Wuhan lab for biological warfare. Scientists were quick to shut Cotten down. "There's absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates the virus was engineered," Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told The Washington Post on February 16. 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.
The genetic code of the new coronavirus has been mapped by scientists in multiple countries. It shares 80% of its genome with the coronavirus that caused SARS and also has overlaps with other coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins. Chinese public-health experts worked to quickly share that genetic information with researchers around the globe. Doctors in the movie say a mutated strain of the MEV-1 virus killed hundreds of thousands of people on the African continent.
So far, the new coronavirus has not mutated like that. Coronaviruses, on the whole, are "somewhat less prone to mutation than flu," Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, previously told Business Insider. At least 50 million people in China's Hubei province, where the coronavirus originated, are under lockdown.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said efforts to quarantine Chinese cities could help authorities control the virus' spread. In "Contagion," the CDC attempts to quarantine the city of Chicago; the Emhoffs' home town of Edina, Minnesota; the Minnesota-Wisconsin border; and other places in the US. 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 WHO defines contact tracing as the identification and follow-up of people who may have come into contact with a person infected with a virus. According to Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, health officials have used contact tracing to monitor potential coronavirus cases in the US. The biggest inaccuracy in the movie "Contagion" is how quickly scientists are able to develop and produce a vaccine.
Researchers in "Contagion" are able to produce and distribute a small quantity of a vaccine in just 90 days. But getting a vaccine to market has historically been an arduous, multiyear process. (The Ebola vaccine, for example, took 20 years to make.) Biotech company Moderna has rapidly developed a vaccine candidate and shipped it for clinical trials in people, but it will likely take another year to determine whether the vaccine is safe and effective.
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The number of Wuhan coronavirus cases has passed the SARS total after just a month. Here's how the 2 outbreaks compare.
A coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed 362 people and infected more than...A coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed 362 people and infected more than 17,000 since December. The virus might have jumped from animals to people at a Chinese wet market where live and dead animals were being sold. SARS was also a coronavirus, and that outbreak started in a wet market, too. It killed 774 people and infected 8,098 between November 2002 and July 2003. The total Wuhan coronavirus case count has surpassed that of SARS in just over a month. It seems to be more contagious but less deadly than SARS. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. At least 362 people have died from a coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, and at least 17,000 have been infected across 24 countries. The spread of this new virus, which is marked by fevers and pneumonialike symptoms, conjured a sense of déja vu for some who remember the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that started in November 2002. That was also a coronavirus, and it jumped to people from animals in wet markets, which the new coronavirus probably did, too. SARS emerged in Guangdong and infected 8,098 people over the course of eight months, killing 774. Patients experienced fevers, headaches, and a type of deadly pneumonia that could cause respiratory failure. Experts called SARS "the first pandemic of the 21st century," since it spread across 29 countries. The disease hasn't been seen in humans since July 2003. Less than one month after the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, the total case count in the current outbreak has already surpassed that of SARS. The death toll — as well as the number of infected patients — inside mainland China has also exceeded that of the SARS outbreak. But former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday that the new coronavirus appears to be less severe than SARS even though it is more contagious. Here are some of the crucial differences between this outbreak and the SARS one 17 years ago.SEE ALSO: The flu is a far bigger threat to most people in the US than the Wuhan coronavirus. Here's why. The first report of the Wuhan coronavirus came on December 31. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people in the central province of Hubei, China. SARS originated in the Guangdong province in southeastern China, near Hong Kong. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50% of people impacted by SARS were age 65 or older, while the other half of infected patients varied widely in age. So far, one study of 41 Wuhan coronavirus cases reported that the median age of those who have died is around 75. Many of those individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. A second study of 99 coronavirus cases, published Thursday in the journal The Lancet, revealed that the average age of infected patients was 55.5. But one recent victim was a 36-year-old man. Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, told Business Insider that children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the coronavirus' most severe complications. The new coronavirus has spread far faster than SARS did. It took eight months for SARS to spread to more than 8,000 people. The Wuhan coronavirus infected over 17,000 people in a little over a month. Ma Xiaowei, minister of China's National Health Commission, said the coronavirus' incubation period ranges from one to 14 days, the South China Morning Post reported. The illness can jump between people before patients show symptoms, which makes it challenging to control the virus' spread. SARS' average incubation period, by comparison, was seven days. According to a study by 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. The authors of the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, said their results suggest the coronavirus has the potential to spread globally. WHO researchers, however, estimate that the coronavirus' R0 value is lower: between 1.4 and 2.5 people. The new coronavirus' fatality rate has not yet been determined with accuracy, but it seems to be around 2% so far. SARS was more deadly, with a fatality rate of 9.6%. According to the new study in The Lancet, however, the fatality rate among the 99 coronavirus patients studied was about 11%. At this phase of the SARS outbreak (one month in), only five people had died. On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public-health emergency. SARS did not get this designation because it has only been around since 2005. Since then, it has been used five other times. However, the Wuhan coronavirus, unlike SARS, isn't considered a pandemic yet. One reason SARS spread to so many places around the world is that Chinese authorities initially attempted to hide the outbreak from the WHO. The Chinese government didn't inform the WHO about SARS until February 14, 2003 — 88 days after the first reported case. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, doctors in Beijing were ordered by authorities to hide SARS patients from WHO officials during inspections. During the initial stages of that outbreak, the Chinese government also concealed information from the public, which exacerbated the spread of disease. Liu Heng, an adviser to China's cabinet, told Reuters that this time around, China announced the outbreak to the public much more immediately. "We are doing much better now ... We are paying greater attention to preventing the epidemic," he said on January 22. Chinese public-health experts also worked to quickly share the new coronavirus' genetic information with researchers around the globe. "The speed with which this virus has been identified is a testament to changes in public health in China since SARS and strong global coordination through the WHO," Jeremy Farrar, an infectious-diseases specialist who worked on combating SARS, told Reuters. By contrast, it took four months for SARS' genome to be published. By sharing information about the new coronavirus genome, scientists have been able to work together to analyze how the illness is spreading and mutating. That work also helps experts track down which animal the coronavirus jumped from. In the case of SARS, and probably this coronavirus outbreak too, bats were the original hosts. They then infected other animals via their poop or saliva, and the unwitting intermediaries transmitted the virus to humans. "Bats and birds are considered reservoir species for viruses with pandemic potential," Bart Haagmans, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, told Business Insider. Coronaviruses are zoonotic diseases (meaning they can jump from animals to people), so places where shoppers, vendors, and live and dead animals are put in close proximity can be breeding grounds for this kind of disease outbreak. SARS jumped from bats to weasel-like mammals called masked palm civets, then to humans. According to a group of scientists who edit the Journal of Medical Virology, the culprit spreading the Wuhan coronavirus could be the Chinese cobra, but that has yet to be confirmed. An analysis showed that the genetic building blocks of the Wuhan coronavirus closely resemble that of snakes. Researchers traced SARS to a population of horseshoe bats in China's Yunnan province. These bats lived in a cave just 1.1 kilometer from the nearest village. Here are five viruses that most likely came from bats and how the outbreaks compare. Another difference between the SARS outbreak and this new coronavirus outbreak is that Chinese authorities quickly instituted travel lock-downs this time. Authorities quarantined Wuhan on January 23, halting all public transportation, including city buses, trains, and ferries. The order prevents any buses or trains from coming into or leaving the city and grounds all planes at the Wuhan airport. The city of Huanggang also went into lockdown on the same day, as authorities closed subway and train stations. By January 27, 14 additional cities — Chibi, Dangyang, Enshi, Ezhou, Huangshi, Jingmen, Suizhou, Qianjjiang, Xiangyang, Xianning, Xiantao, Xiaogan, Yichang, and Zhijiang — had followed suit with their own travel restrictions. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said efforts to quarantine cities could help Chinese authorities control the virus' spread and "minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally." "What they're doing is a very, very strong measure, and with full commitment," Ghebreyesus said on January 22. The restrictions affect at least 50 million people in China. During the SARS outbreak, it took officials at least four months to institute any quarantine measures. Anthony Fauci, a disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, told CNBC that he thinks China is "doing much better this time." Neither SARS nor the Wuhan coronavirus has a vaccine. "If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer," Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider. Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine-development plans. But getting a vaccine to market has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines.