Contagion: Immune System and Disease sample essay
* Watch the movie Contagion and write an essay relating the movie to what you have learned in Bio101 this semester. Make sure answer the following questions within the content of your essay: (This assignment is worth 10 points and will be graded accordingly) 1. What is the disease caused by? How is it transmitted and who is the initial patient? How did that initial patient get the disease? The virus latches onto the host cell, taking over completely. The body doesn’t know what to do and the virus continues to attack. The scientist noticed that there were traces of bat and pig in the virus DNA code so it mostly originated from an infected bat in China. The disease is transmitted by a contagion of touch. So the littlest things people touch and interact with, including each other, are potential harbours for infection and the initial patient is Beth Emhoff. A construction crew from Beth’s company AIMM was cutting down trees in a forest in China that caused some bats to fly out.
One bat was infected with the flu. It grabbed a piece of banana and perched above a pig’s pen. It dropped the banana piece which was assumed to have the virus on it. A pig eats it and is eventually slaughtered at a food market. A chef handles the dead pig, touching the inside of the infected pig’s mouth with his bare hands. He goes out to the dining room and poses in a picture with Beth holding hands, transferring the virus to her and starting the chain of events.
2. Explain by using what you know about genetics how Matt Damon’s character remains unaffected by the disease. Mitch Emhoff had natural immunity which describes the state of being able to resist illnesses; such a condition originates in a healthy immune system. Natural immunity is resistance that one inherits from one’s parents, in contrast to acquired immunity, which one develops over the course of their life. Also, almost all viral diseases have what scientist call the iceberg effect. Many people get infected but they have no symptoms. Others get infected and they have some symptoms but not very serious ones. In the movie they said that three-quarters of people get the disease and don’t die, so in this case Mitch Emhoff was one of those individuals.
3. What does Kate Winslet explain as the R/0? How does this affect how a disease is transmitted from one person to the next? What are fomites? Why are they so dangerous in terms of disease transmission? By looking at how fast diseases spread in a population, Dr. Erin Mears can estimate how many people the average sick individual infects, this number is called R/0. The problem, Mears says, is the carriers and the number they will potentially infect the R-naught number. Flu is usually one person. Polio, pre-vaccine, was between four and six. Until they know more, this virus’ R-naught number could be much greater. This affects how a disease is transmitted because the R/0 is different for every microbe, based on the microbe’s properties.
The more and easier ways a microbe can be spread, the higher the R/0. For instance, if an illness can only be spread by a child sneezing directly into your mouth from less than six inches away, it will probably have a lower R/0 than one that will spread to anyone touching a doorknob after the infected person for the next 12 hours. (Heymann) Fomites refer to transmission from surfaces that carry disease causing parasites. Formites are dangerous because, three to five times every waking minute, we’re touching doorknobs, water fountains, elevator buttons and each other. Those things become fomites, which is spread from people touching their face two or three thousand times a day.
4. Is the vaccine development process realistic especially considering who is the first person to try it? The MEV- 1 vaccine development process is not realistic because the first people to try it weren’t known to have contracted the disease. And in reality, identifying a new virus, formulating a vaccine through different formulas, mounting human trials, getting it approved by national health authorities and then getting it manufactured, shipped around the world and vaccinated into human bodies would take a much longer process than what the movie portrays.
5. Considering what you know about the AIDS pandemic? Is this movie really something you should worry about? Take a look at the websites for the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control to help you decide. Scientist can’t say don’t worry about it, nor can they say it’s not dangerous. They just don’t know yet. They are far away from speculating on any pandemic potential of this virus, but finding this ancient influenza subtype stresses again that bats are an important source of animal viruses. So this movie isn’t something that we should worry about at this moment, but it is something that scientist should look more into in order to be prepared just in case a contagion pandemic breaks out.
Heymann, Eames K. “Things and Stuff: Herd Immunity.” Things and Stuff. N.p., 15 July 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.