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What Contagion missed

When Contagion hit the theaters on September 9, I was skeptical but interested (call it professional curiosity) to see Hollywood's latest attempt at showing microbial disaster. This time, director Steven Soderbergh sought help from an actual virus hunter, W. Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology, neurology, and pathology at Columbia University.

Lipkin based Contagion's fictional MEV-1 virus on the Nipah virus, a deadly microbe that appeared more than a decade ago in Malaysia. Although much of the movie was remarkably realistic -- including the unscrupulous blogger promoting a useless cure; the epidemiologic investigation; the use of gymnasiums as makeshift hospitals; the social discord at pharmacies, grocery stores, and neighborhoods; the race for a vaccine (which was unrealistically too fast); and the mass graves -- it barely touched on the key point of the epidemic: why it appeared in the first place.

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