Have you seen the trailer for Contagion? Okay, I’m a wimp — but it’s frankly terrifying. Steven Soderbergh’s newest movie doesn’t try to scare us with terrorists or asteroids; instead, its our weak and susceptible immune systems that are the threat. It’s the kind of movie that’ll make you look askance at anyone nearby who sneezes.
Lucky for us Baltimoreans, though, we’ve got all those wonderful Johns Hopkins doctors to protect us. Right? RIGHT?! The Hopkins Gazette recently polled some of the school’s infectious disease/public health experts about their take on the film’s scenario, and I have to admit, they don’t say anything all that reassuring:
Joshua Epstein is uniquely qualified to talk about this sort of stuff, as a professor of emergency medicine and a behavior modeling expert; (un?)fortunately for us, he says that what’s really contagious is fear. In a hypothetical pandemic/plague situation, fear is the wild card: when they’re afraid, people act irrationally. They may ignore official guidance, refuse vaccines, and otherwise make things worse.
One thing that might make people afraid is the possibility of scarce resources. (Remember the brief Cipro hoarding panic of 2001?) Who decides who gets what, and when? According to Holly Taylor, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, one way to allay fear is not just to make plans, but to make sure everyone knows that plans have been made.
And lest we start to feel like we might be immune to widespread infection, Trish Perl, a leading epidemiologist/infectious disease expert, reminds us of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 that killed 50 million people worldwide.
Feel better now?