If you are a disease geek, then yes, you will love Contagion, the all-star Oh God Oh God We’re All Going To Die movie that opened last night. Paramyxovirus! R-nought! BSL-4! And, bonus, so many insider references to the CDC that the script could double as an epidemiology drinking game. (Go to the end of this post for my fact-check of CDC references. They’re spoilery and thus hidden on the next page.)
To me, the fascinating thing about Contagion is how seriously it takes its epidemiology, its virology and even its sober sense of how unprepared most Americans are for a mass-casualty disaster (as captured in this April report from the National Biosurveillance Advisory Committee).
To find out where those came from, I asked its chief science adviser: Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, who is the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology, and Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, dubbed a “master virus-hunter” by master science-writer Carl Zimmer in the New York Times. Here’s our email Q & A.
Maryn: Given past “science” movies — Outbreak, for instance — I was surprised that the science in this movie is so solid. Was this your doing, and how did you manage it?