Could it really happen?

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Could it really happen? Are the events portrayed in the film at all realistic?

Well, pandemics are real enough. The Black Death killed almost half the population of Britain in the 14th century and the Spanish Flu killed as many as 50 million people worldwide in 1918-19. Thankfully, nothing has struck with quite the same speed and scale in recent times.  However, SARS showed that pandemics can spread really fast and HIV/AIDS has shown that the toll of infectious diseases on human life can be just as great. The bugs are still out there. The pandemic threat is still alive and well, it just requires the right combination of circumstances.

Controlling pandemics still poses a huge challenge as well. Compared to Spanish Flu, Ebola is just a localised outbreak, but it has shown how easily healthcare resources can be overwhelmed and how fragile systems to combat infections are in some parts of the world.

As a former US Secretary for Health and Human Services commented:

‘As we have seen recently with SARS and H5N1 avian influenza, diseases respect no boundaries.  In today’s world, a threat anywhere means danger everywhere.’

 - Michael Leavitt, December 2006.

In contrast to the film, in a real-life pandemic it is unlikely that there will be any effective antidote or vaccine available for a very long time. Effective control will depend on traditional public health measures like isolation and quarantine and these will pose many ethical dilemmas about individual freedoms vs. the safety of society.

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