The "Contagion" Scenario - Fact or Fiction?

Sep 09, 2011, 10:28 ET from Global Virus Network

Mankind Is Extremely Vulnerable According To The Global Virus Network

NEW YORK, Sept. 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The movie, "Contagion," depicts the story of a lethal, airborne virus that rapidly becomes a global pandemic, wreaking havoc on mankind, while the medical community desperately seeks to contain the threat and find a cure.  Is the movie's scenario fiction or a factual portent of what could happen today?  According to internationally renowned virus hunter, Dr. Robert C. Gallo, most widely known for discovering the first human retrovirus and for co-discovering HIV, "What people the world over should be asking is not whether an outbreak of a lethal airborne virus has the potential to become a global pandemic, as airborne viral threats are an unequivocally real and indisputably present danger to mankind, but whether the world's doctors and scientists are capable, let alone prepared, to handle a devastating viral outbreak."

In 2010, Dr. Gallo, Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, working in concert with colleagues, Dr. Maria Salvato, Dr. David Pauza, Dr. Reinhard Kurth - Chairman of the Ernst Schering Foundation Council and former President of Germany's Robert Koch Institute, and Dr. William Hall - Professor of Medical Microbiology at University College Dublin in Ireland, recently co-founded the Global Virus Network ("GVN") to establish and maintain global collaborations between the world's top medical virologists and to serve as a global authority and resource for the identification, investigation, containment and treatment of viral diseases that pose threats to mankind.  While there are a number of global health organizations which are responsible for virus research and surveillance, prior to the advent of the GVN, there was no integrated global network that could pool the knowledge, expertise and resources of the world's leading medical virologists to investigate, interpret, explain, and disseminate information about, viral diseases that pose threats to mankind.

According to a recent article published in TIME (September 8, 2011), " 'Contagion' should serve as a wake-up call.  "Forget economic depression, nuclear war or an errant asteroid — nothing poses a bigger threat to human civilization over the long term than the right virus in the wrong place."  

Says Dr. Kurth, "viral diseases are among the most serious threats to human health and to the global economy – it is critical that the world's leading medical virologists take responsibility and join forces to identify, understand and battle against existing and emerging pathogenic viruses that pose a serious threat to the global population."  "University College Dublin has a large presence in Vietnam where just recently we've found a mutant strain of the bird flu (H5N1).  We immediately notified all members of the GVN and, together, we will monitor the situation, undertake and fund research to deal with this potentially life-threatening virus, as well as coalesce, interpret and disseminate up-to-date information freely to the global community," continued Dr. Hall.

Scientists estimate that more than 1.7 billion people, a fourth of the world's population, will be infected by both existing and emerging harmful viruses this year, of which approximately 20 million people will die.  The cost to the global economy is estimated to be in excess of $200 billion annually, an increase of almost $50 billion since 2001.  According to the GVN, Dengue fever, which heretofore has been relatively common only in tropical countries, is now emerging in the U.S. due to climate change and the spread of mosquito habitats.  Polio and measles, viruses that were once nearly eliminated by vaccines, are now re-emerging because government vaccination programs have lapsed in the belief that these viruses have been eradicated.  In addition, because of the increasing proximity between animals and man due to urban development and deforestation, there is a growing number of viruses which originate in animals and jump to humans.  The GVN investigates the emergence of a number of these viruses, such as Ebola, Lassa and SARS, which are highly contagious and extremely deadly.

History proves that, on a fairly regular periodic basis, there is a major viral outbreak, the results of which can be devastating.  The continuing AIDS crisis, which began in the 1980s, has led to 31 million deaths so far, and worldwide flu pandemics have killed millions:

20th Century Flu Pandemics


Deaths Worldwide

Case Fatality Rate

Spanish Flu (H1N1)


20-100 million


Asian Flu (H2N2)


2 million


Hong Kong Flu (H3N2)


1 million


Seasonal Flu

Every year

250-500,000 per yr


Swine Flu (H1N1)




Source:  Wikipedia as of September 8, 2011

Contributing to these viruses becoming global pandemics was the lack of an integrated global approach and response by the medical and scientific communities.  Millions died and millions more were infected over a period of years because governments and health authorities throughout the world were unprepared and unable to join forces in order to harness the collective knowledge, expertise, resources and technologies necessary to effectively battle a new or existing viral pandemic.

In the 1970's, the world believed retroviruses did not exist in humans until Dr. Gallo discovered the first known human retroviruses.  Said Dr. Salvato, "scientists must consider the impossible and, when warranted, go against the medical, scientific and governmental establishments to meet the challenge and solve the problem.  For example, had Bob Gallo not shared his techniques developed to study human retroviruses, the discovery of HIV and the development of the HIV blood test may well have taken another ten years, resulting in the loss of millions of more lives.  Medicine and science can only benefit and protect mankind if doctors and scientists the world over communicate and collaborate on an apolitical and unfettered basis."  

Should a "Contagion"-like virus arise, the virologists of GVN will help mitigate the risk of a viral epidemic by bringing together the knowledge, expertise and resources of the world's leading medical virologists. "Without an integrated and coalesced approach by the medical virology community and scientists throughout the world, nothing can be expediently and effectively accomplished.  You do not have an explanation of disease causation, drug therapy, a cure or a vaccine.  The newly formed GVN will be integral to our world's security against existing and new viral threats," said Dr. Gallo.

About the Global Virus Network (GVN)
The Global Virus Network (GVN) is an independent, not for profit organization, comprised of leading medical virologists from Argentina, Australia, Belgium (in collaboration with France and The Netherlands) Canada, China, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Pacific Rim Consortium (Japan, Korea and Hong Kong) to the A-IMBN, Russia (in collaboration with Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Uzbekistan and Ukraine), South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.  The GVN is a global authority and resource for the identification and investigation, interpretation and explanation, control and suppression, of viral diseases posing threats to mankind.  The GVN enhances the international capacity for reactive, proactive and interactive activities that address mankind-threatening viruses.  The GVN addresses a global need for coordinated virology training, developing scholarly exchange programs for recruiting and training young scientists in medical virology.  The GVN serves as a resource to governments and international organizations seeking advice about viral disease threats, prevention or response strategies.  The GVN advocates research and training on virus infections and their many disease manifestations, and acts as a clearinghouse for the dissemination of information to authorities, scientific communities and the world publics.

SOURCE Global Virus Network