"Contagion" (2011) May Be Just a Movie, But How Real is the Threat of a Global Pandemic?

Are our days numbered by viral infection?
Are our days numbered by viral infection?

It has been said that the greatest threat to the continued existence of humankind is viral infection.

I do not have proof that the saying is factual, but I do know that history reflects catastrophic losses of human life from outbreaks of infectious disease; this is why I wholeheartedly believe in the statement.

"Contagion" (2011) is a film due to be released September 9th. The film stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Lawrence Fishburn, and Naomi Watts.

According to IMDB reviewer DonFishies, the story is about a new deadly virus that has been discovered after multiple deaths begin surfacing around the world. As various members of the CDC and WHO race to find a cure, the world stands at the brink of a rising epidemic. While some are safe, others must do everything they can to avoid infection, or risk the fatal consequences.

Hollywood has produced dozens of films about the world coming to an end due to some kind of viral infection, but how realistic is the threat?

Influenza Virus Anatomy
Influenza Virus Anatomy

Epidemics, Endemics, and Pandemics

Epidemic is the term used to denote the occurrence of cases of an illness, specific health-related behavior, or health related events that are excess in normal expectancy in a community or region.

Endemic refers to the ongoing, usual, or constant presence of a disease among a community or a group of people - a disease is said to be endemic when continually prevails in a specific region. Loosely translated, the definition of endemic is "native to an area or scope."

Pandemic is an epidemic that affects the population of an extensive region, country, or continent. A virus would have to reach the scale of a pandemic to warrant the levels of fear depicted in films like "Contagion."

Devastating Pandemics in Human History

In recent history, both HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and H1N1 have reached pandemic levels.

Notable historic pandemics include the following diseases:

  • 165 - 180 Antonine Plague - This plague was caused by smallpox, it took the lives of an estimated 5 million people in the Roman Empire.
  • 541- 542 Plague of Justinian - Bubonic plague was the cause of this epidemic which took the lives of 25 million people in the Byzantine Empire.
  • 1338 - 1351 The Black Death - Bubonic plague was responsible for the Black Death, it was the most catastrophic epidemic in human history, and it took the lives of more than 100 million people across Europe and Asia.
  • 1816 - 1826 First Cholera Pandemic - This pandemic was clearly caused by cholera, and more than 100 thousand lives were lost in Asia and Europe.
  • 1829 - 1851 Second Cholera Pandemic - Another 100 thousand lives were lost across Asia, Europe, and North America.
  • 1852 - 1860 Third Cholera Pandemic - This was the most deadly of the cholera pandemics, it took the lives of 1 million people in Russia.
  • 1889 - 1890 Russian Flu - Influenza struck across the entire world, and it wiped out 1 million human lives.
  • 1899 - 1923 Sixth Cholera Pandemic - Again, Europe and Asia were struck by a cholera outbreak, but this time Africa was affected as well.More than 8 hundred thousand people perished in this pandemic.
  • 1918 - 1920 1918 Flu Pandemic - This influenza global pandemic took 75 million human lives.
  • 1957 - 1958 Asian Flu - Yet another flu outbreak, this time 2 million Asian people died from the disease
  • 1968 - 1969 Hong Kong Flu - This epidemic swept through the massive city of Hong Kong, and it wiped out 1 million lives.
  • 1981 - Present - HIV Pandemic - HIV has already claimed the lives of more than 25 million people worldwide, and the future holds even more epic loss of human life, especially in Africa.
  • 2001 - 2003 SARS Epidemic - SARS coronavirus is responsible for taking the lived of almost 800 Asians.
  • 2008 - 2009 Zimbabwe Cholera Outbreak - Again, cholera was responsible for nearly 4,300 deaths in Zimbabwe.
  • 2009 - 2010 2009 Flu Pandemic - This global pandemic claimed the lives of 14,286 people worldwide.
  • 2010 - Present Haiti Cholera Outbreak - This most recent cholera outbreak has already taken the lives of more than 4,700 people.

What Is a Virus?

A virus is a tiny infectious agent that survives by replicating itself inside the cells of living organisms.

To put it plainly, viruses act in parasitic fashion, attaching itself to its host then it creates copies of itself to consume its host.

The majority of all viruses are minuscule that they can only be seen with the aid of a light microscope.

A virus can infect all forms of organisms from archaea, to bacteria, plants, and animals - including the highest animal on the food chain, human beings.

Many Hollywood films, including "Contagion" (2011), have focused on the epidemic or pandemic outbreak of a viral infection. These films are particularly disturbing because viral outbreaks have occurred in human history, and most thinking individuals know that a future outbreak is a real threat.


How a virus invades your body

Difference Between Viral Infection & Bacterial Infection

Most simply stated, bacterial infection is caused by bacteria and viral infection is caused by viruses.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bacteria can live and grow in all kinds of environments, and most bacteria do not cause harm to living organisms. Antibiotics have the power to destroy most bacteria.

There is a persistent concern that overuse of bacteria may be responsible for helping to create more resistant strains of bacteria.

Antiviral drugs do not work as effectively as antibiotics, because they seek to inhibit their growth. However, antivirals do hot have the ability to destroy viruses in the same manner that antibiotics destroy bacteria. The best defense we have today against known viruses is vaccines.

As stated above, viruses require living hosts to thrive - that could mean me and/or you and the rest of the humankind, and antibiotics are absolutely useless against viruses.

*it should be noted that certain ailments, such as pneumonia and meningitis, can be caused by either viruses or bacteria, and it might be difficult to determine which microbe is the offending agent.

Cholera Transmission Warning
Cholera Transmission Warning

What is Cholera and Why Has it Been Such a Menace?

Cholera is a bacterial infection that attacks the small intestines. Cholera can be transmitted through ingesting affected drinking water or food (fecal contaminants).

Poor Sanitation is responsible for most outbreaks, and advances in sanitation and public health have halted the high death tolls resulting from the disease.

The disease has been a menace over the years, partly because is so highly communicable.

The most rapidly advancing cholera epidemic was the Broad Street Cholera Outbreak in 1854. Broad street is in the SoHo district of London. Although the outbreak took less than 700 lives, it involved more than 500 fatal attacks in only to days.


In Conclusion

When I first embarked upon the journey to create this hub, I thought that viral threats were more heinous than bacterial threats.

Through research, I have come to realize that both of these threats have been responsible for causing massive loss of human lives over the history of humankind.

Today, significant advances in sanitation and medical science has reduced the incidents of large scale pandemic viral or bacterial outbreaks...However, incredibly resistant strains of bacteria are continually forming, and potentially deadly viruses are constantly being discovered.

The Black Death reduced the population of the continent of Europe by 60%. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before another worldwide, catastrophic, infectious disease appears to wipe out a significant number of human lives.

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Comments 6 comments

2besure profile image

2besure 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Not to mention the government spraying us with poison through chem trails. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiJ_R8JVpi4&feature...


melpor profile image

melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

Rachelle, this can really happen and it has happen several times in our history. Remember the "Black Plague" that nearly wiped out most of the European population between 1348 and 1350. Also there was a flu pandemic in 1918 called the "Spanish Flu" in the United States that killed approximately 700,000 people. The threat is real that this can happen on a global scale if we can't stop a deadly virus.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 5 years ago from California

I think the threat is real. The Swine Flu pandemic proved that we really aren't capable of dealing with the threat either. It took way too long for a vaccine to become widely available. Thankfully the Swine Flu wasn't a huge killer. But what if it had been?


Rachelle Williams profile image

Rachelle Williams 5 years ago from Tempe, AZ Author

@ Learn Things Web - that's a good point, the Swine Flu epidemic really did prove that we are completely unprepared. Both me and my grandson caught the Swine Flu and it was horrible, It is scary to think that the both of us probably could have been fatal casualties of a historic (for future generations) pandemic.


rick combe profile image

rick combe 5 years ago from USA

The threat is absolutely real.Good job compiling those stats. Best hub I've read in a while!


CarltheCritic1291 profile image

CarltheCritic1291 5 years ago

Very well written Hub, thank you for posting. Voted Up and Useful :)

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