Containment: the Good, the Bad, and the Contagious

Last week saw the series finale of the CW show, Containment. The show’s plot revolves around a mysterious and dangerous outbreak that we follow through the lives of several characters. “When a mysterious epidemic breaks out in Atlanta, an urban quarantine is enforced, leaving those inside to fight for their lives as local and federal officials search for a cure. Police officer Lex Carnahan works to keep the peace, but the situation becomes personal when he learns his girlfriend Jana and his best friend Jake are both stuck in the cordoned area. Also trapped with the infected are 17-year-old Teresa, who is very pregnant and separated from her boyfriend, elementary teacher Katie Frank, who is on lockdown with her entire class, and CDC researcher Dr. Victor Cannerts. Public trust deteriorates as a journalist, Leo, begins chasing down a conspiracy that unravels the official story.” 

While we love a show involving outbreaks, quarantines, and the politics of disease, it’s rare that the producers actually get the science correct. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson did for astrophysics in films, we’re looking at some of the issues with Containment. Here are some of the lessons learned (pro’s) and cringe-worthy (cons) moments throughout the show:

Scientific Lessons Learned

  • Quarantine/Isolation is vital
  • PPE goes a long way – avoid those bodily fluids
  • Fear and hysteria follow outbreaks like a mosquito loves BBQ’s
  • Biology and epidemiology started off strong….
  • Social distancing is a good practice
  • Genetically engineered viruses are a concern with GoF research
  • Lack of cure – thankfully, it showed the reality that not all diseases get a miracle cure
  • Tensions between Federal versus local and law enforcement versus public health (which is especially prudent with the current situation of San Juan suing the CDC over pesticide spraying). Consider these tensions during Amerithrax, when the FBI wanted to treat the AMI building as a crime scene, while the CDC wanted to go in and do testing, etc. In fact, these lessons have fueled the support for forensic epidemiology, which seeks to combine public health and law enforcement in order to facilitate a better working relationship.
  • Hospitals are woefully unprepared for emerging or unknown diseases, which makes them the perfect transmission tool for diseases (remember Ebola and MERS?).

Cringe-Worth Moments

  • Using the same PPE over and over again
  • Who has jurisdiction for the whole Cordon? State of emergency? Chain of command?
  • Is it really possible a rogue CDC scientist would be able to secretly get away with illegal experiments and work?
  • Why is there such massive hemorrhaging for some and not others?
  • GoF justification due to concerns for bioweapons? Creating chimeric viruses as a biodefense strategy is wrong on so many levels.
  • Do police and tactical people not need PPE?
  • Body disposal and then photo-taking (post-mortem identification) without changing gloves or cleaning hands – apparently not a source of transmission…
  • Never seems to be a consistent route of transmission or isolation practice.
  • People are worried about being touched, but don’t seem to spend much time on environmental decontamination
  • Sadly, science behind the series started to wane as time progressed….

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