Sunday, January 22, 2012

The cough that kills...

A few years ago we had a (highly overblown) scare with H1N1, so called Swine Flu, which, rather predictably, started in China. Despite a rather laughable response from the federal Government, it hit America just a little harder than seasonal Flu. One could make the argument that this is because we were all scared out of our gourd and (over)reacted in a typically American way. I would argue that it had more to do with the fact that despite the fact we're rapidly all becoming Fat Asses, we are perhaps the healthiest nation on Earth. I would argue because of Capitalized medicine not despite it.

Be that as it may, the H1N1 scare was one in a series of scares. SARS, Bird Flu (H5N1), etc. Again these originated out of China (I see a trend here). And again once it actually got to the United States wasn't nearly as bad as it was hyped up to be.  This is both good news and very very bad thing.  The good should be painfully obvious.  If we had hundreds or thousands of people dying fo flu every other year we'd all be in deep shit, both as a planet and as a nation.  The bad news is that we've lived through these "panics" and they turned out to be nothing, so, when the real deal hits, at first there will be extreme disbelief, and then when the reality sinks in that it is already too late. . . panic.  Like you wouldn't believe.

Now take the movie Contagion.  As movies about Viral outbreaks go, this is one of the best I've seen so far, but suffered from the fact that it was trying to tell three distinct stories, which would have very different views on the crisis.  The first is that of Matt Damon, trying to deal with his wife and stepson dying (and the resulting chaos in his life)  the fear of losing his only remaining family and the chaos in society that followed.  The next story is about the officials, and their response (trying to come to terms trying to find a cure etc) and lastly the Nutjob, loon, the blogger that has his theories about how things are (and the damage he caused).  One could have told the story of the outbreak for each angle, and made three separate (and all very good) movies, that had intersecting characters.  Trying to tell them all together lead to a jumble, that failed to pain the larger picture of what would happen.  So let me take them one at a time

Matt Damon: ok first off the chances that a person would be "immune" to something like this. . . slim.  I understand the plot device, you need someone to wander around, a sane head in an insane world, but. . .  wrong.  His reactions to learning his wife died, accurate, and his actions towards his daughter, also accurate.  After that though he is supposed to be the sane observer in the insane world.  Lets face it an actual Army cordon for a quarantine like that is going to be a bit less civil.  And by the way if he was afraid of leaving his daughter alone, and afraid to go out and shop (for good reason) at what point did he scrounge/loot?  His survival at first unlikely.  His continued survival with only breaking a few property laws. . . freaking impossible.  One last note.  I don't care if "blood serums are difficult to make and expensive" if Matt Damon were immune, they would bleed that SOB dry to figure out why he was immune.  

The Official Response:  Yeah the DHS guy was acting just how you would expect (and quite frankly demand) DHS to act.  He asked a rather dumb (but necessary) question "could someone have Weaponized Bird Flu?"  The answer is just as important, but perhaps more horrifying in actual implications "someone doesn't have to the birds are already doing that".  In truth any airborne virus is going to spread like a brush fire, and containing it will be next to impossible.  But a lot of what was shown from the official end was pretty close to what you would expect.  Even the bit about a doctor warning his gf in Chicago to get the fuck out of dodge before the quarantine,  (and her being the ohh  so good friend and telling another friend who she swore to secrecy. . . who then told everyone else, getting Lawrence Fishburn in really hot water in the process)  is something you would expect to actually happen.  The efforts shown are pretty accurate of what you would expect (except for that WHO epidemiologist.  The movie could have done without her completely).  The problem is that they didn't show enough pants shitting "OH MY GOD THIS IS REALLY BAD" moments that would have happened.  Also they failed utterly to show how things would have broken down in the pandemic.  The infrastructure would have been utterly gutted.   

"Alan Crumwoody" the insane blogger who is all about the "truth" talks about a homeopathic "cure" that in reality doesn't do shit.  People believe him, because he was the first to break the fact that this was going to be a bad bad situation.  Well his cure is shit, people are desperate so they panic and try to swarm pharmacies (I especially like the part where the woman asks a guy to cover his mouth when he coughs and he says "go to hell").  I have no doubt that such a person exists.  When the eventual plague hits, there will be people like this charicter who spout insane theories (the Drug Companies made this disease) and will impair the real doctors ability to work, and advocate "cures" which may well be counter productive.  Such people will only add to the panic when the Pandemic does actually come. For that reason alone he should have gotten his own movie. . . So people will understand that guys like him ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

 What the movie didn't show: Panic.  Not a few scenes.  I'm talking about people being in pants shitting terror and literally taring towns apart.  You didn't see desperate people (most of them sick) trying to charge the quarantine lines.  This would happen.  Soldiers would have to fire.  Its not pretty but this is what will happen, the Soldiers shouldn't be depicted as bad guys (as in The Stand, or Outbreak), just guys stuck with a really shitty job that MUST BE DONE.  If you talked about that, you'd also have to talk about the 18 YO Kid who in a fit of compassion let a sick person through, and doomed another city.  Social order would also break down, and getting any semblance of services would be next to impossible.  The throw-away lines about Nurses striking. . . again so much more you need to say here. 

I want to leave you with this.  Despite concocting a novel virus (both encephalitic and pneumonic) what was depicted (both in communicability and lethality) is actually being extremely generous.  30%. . . We would be very lucky if we had a pandemic with only a 30% mortality rate.  That's what Smallpox sits at.  Variolla Major (most common form of Small Pox) is not a good thing to have, and you're likely to die from your skin being compromised, that is of course if you have supportive care.  That's assuming its Variolla Major (Variollia Minor sits at 15%) but there are actually two other types of Small Pox that are rarer (considering there hasn't been an outbreak since '79) Flat Small Pox sits at 80% and Hemorrhagic sits in at a whopping 90%.   If you're on your own. . . well you're not exactly feeding yourself or getting water when you're at the height of the virus.  If there were a virus that could cause encephalitis and pneumonia even with supportive care you're screwed.  If there isn't brain damage from the swelling, then there will be brain damage from the lungs not getting enough oxygen.  That is assuming someone is feeding you/giving you fluids, and if, as it appears in the movie, to cause febrile seizures. . . that's a triple whammy.  Dead Dead and more Dead.

The ending, was even more unsatisfying in a way.  There was a nice little Hollywood nod to Environmentalism (see you cut down this forest hand have pigs in huge pens you get this Environmental Justice to the Rescue)  and Corporations being Evil, but what you don't get, and should have, is: Holy shit 50+ million people are dead.  Think about that.  The one thing I wish such a film, and really any film that talks about such a thing, would harp on, is that this thing will spread.  It will spread fast.  We are so interconnected, that within days on the outbreak starting, it will literally be everywhere.  Don't think you can get into the hills, when things get bad.  By then its already too late.  You and, really everyone can save lives, if you are prepared, and if you STAY CALM.  Foolish, panicked action when the Pandemic does eventually hit, with only exacerbate the problem.

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