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Jude Law stars as Alan Krumwiede in the thriller Contagion. (Claudette Barius)
Jude Law stars as Alan Krumwiede in the thriller Contagion. (Claudette Barius)

Think Contagion is pure Hollywood fiction? Think again, experts say Add to ...

The plot of the much-hyped movie Contagion follows the destructive path of a lethal and highly contagious new virus that spreads rapidly around the world, killing many in its path as scientists scramble to find a treatment.

But is the film, which is being released in Canada on Friday, rooted more in fact or fiction?

According to a leading infectious-disease expert, the story isn’t far-fetched at all.

“In an increasingly globalized world, the scenario of a severe pandemic is entirely plausible,” Kamran Khan, an infectious-disease physician and scientist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and an associate professor at the University of Toronto said in a news release. “Pandemics have been occurring throughout history and will inevitably occur again. It would be naive for us to assume that future pandemics will never be severe.”

Dr. Khan and his colleagues have been working on developing innovative ways of detecting potential pandemics and tracking the spread of infectious disease.

One of those colleagues, John Brownstein, an epidemiologist based at Children’s Hospital Boston, has created HealthMap, a website and mobile application that constantly searches the Internet for signs of emerging disease outbreaks.

While HealthMap uses traditional government surveillance reports to spot potential disease patterns around the world, it also trolls social media and online news sites for signs that an outbreak is occurring.

HealthMap is actually featured on a Contagion tie-in website designed to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and the potential dangers of pandemics and infectious disease.

Infectious diseases pose real threats to society and require cutting-edge ways of detecting patterns in order to recognize problems early, Drs. Khan and Brownstein say.

They hope the movie boosts awareness of the potential dangers that come with living in a globalized society and generates discussion on ways to reduce the risks of spreading infectious diseases.

“When people talk about preparing for pandemics, they tend to focus on ways to respond to these outbreaks once they have already started,” Dr. Khan said. “But it’s important that we look further upstream, and recognize that there are things we can all do to reduce the risks of infectious disease threats emerging in the first place.”

in a post-SARS and H1N1 world, how concerned are you about the possibility of a global pandemic?

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