HealthMap hosts a successful screening of “Contagion”

On Friday, Sept. 9, the HealthMap team hosted a screening of "Contagion", the new hit movie from Warner Bros. Pictures, Participant Media, and Imagenation Abu Dhabi. The audience, about 200 people strong and ranging from students to social media specialists to public health officials, packed the theatre. Guests were greeted with complimentary HealthMap thermometers and asked to tweet their temperatures to @HealthMap (despite the rainy week and cooler weather, the median temperature was 97.8°F with no significant outliers).

After the movie, John Brownstein PhD, co-founder of HealthMap, led a lively Q&A session between viewers and a panel of experts, including Mark Smolinski MD, Director of Skoll Global Health Threats Fund and Technical Advisor to Contagion; Larry Madoff MD, Deputy State Epidemiologist from the Mass. Department of Public Health; and Taha Kass Hout MD, the Deputy Director for Information Science at CDC’s Public Health Surveillance Program.   

“The idea was to get people to care about emerging diseases and to increase the understanding of zoonotic diseases,” said Smolinski. 

The virus that plagued the world in the film was a zoonotic disease. Originally presented as some sort of avian flu, the virus was actually a hybrid of viruses (based on the Nipah virus) in bats and pigs which then infects humans. 

“The lines between plants, animals and humans are constantly broken. We saw this in H1N1, we saw this in SARS. SARS was in five continents in less than 30 days. Diseases spread at the speed of airliners and that’s really something critical…just be aware that we live in one ecosystem and the more we break those barriers, the more we can assume that these outbreaks will spread,” said Kass Hout. 

Communication also came up in the discussion,

“What needs to happen to ensure that the correct information flows in the most streamlined way possible and the amount of misinformation is minimized?” asked a member of the audience.

John Auerbach, the Mass. Department of Public Health Commissioner, present in the audience, handled this question:

“I think it’s a real challenge to get accurate information out in a timely way. Part of the challenge is the media has such hunger for 24 hours worth of new information, new stories and unless we are continually feeding that, they will go to other sources… If you’re not continually doing it in creative ways with multiple respected sources, you lose the battle.”

Part of HealthMap’s goal is to improve the communication regarding disease outbreaks and other emerging public health threats.

The screening was partially in celebration of HealthMap’s five-year anniversary. To mark this occasion, Children’s Hospital created a slideshow documenting the past five years with HealthMap. In addition, Children’s interviewed the HealthMap team to discover how HealthMap would have changed the game in other outbreak movies, such as Andromeda Strain (1971) and Outbreak (1995).

HealthMap thanks everyone who came to share the evening and hopes that you enjoyed yourselves!


The quoted comments are solely the responsibility of the individuals speaking and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC or the Mass. Department of Public Health.  

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