Seeing Gwyneth's Brain Isn't the Scariest Part

How the fictional 'Contagion' alludes to the real threat of pandemic disease

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Disturbing: Watching Gwyneth Paltrow get a (simulated) brain autopsy in the new film Contagion. This involved a 40-minute take, deeply unsightly makeup for Ms. Paltrow (think yellow liquid and nostrils), and a piece of faux skin that director Steven Soderbergh described thusly: "like pizza on one end without the sauce."

Soderbergh told USA Today that Paltrow wanted details of her character's examination after falling victim to a deadly illness to be "exactly right."

Now for the more disturbing part.

Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, writes in The Atlantic that the thriller's plot, about a new infectious illness that sweeps the globe, sickening and killing vast numbers of people, isn't far-fetched. Not even a little bit.

This is a movie, not a documentary. But the plot of a new, deadly virus spreading quickly is quite plausible. In fact, CDC and public health partners identify, on average, one new or emerging infectious disease each year. The movie is a reminder that public health at local, state, national, and global levels must be supported to quickly detect, investigate, and respond to outbreaks and keep Americans safe from health, safety, and security threats arising in this country or anywhere in the world.

The panic and wall-to-cable-TV-wall mania about swine flu is so long past it's tough to remember what year it occurred in, or just how scary it was. But the next pandemic could be just around the corner. Or just down the row on the next plane. Not so comforting, no matter how the movie ends.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.