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Bird Flu TV Movie: Grim Worst Case

<P>Some Errors, Some Painful Truths in Worst-Case Bird Flu Movie</P>

Body Disposal

In the movie, dump trucks dispose of dead bodies in mass graves. In real life, a major U.S. government priority is to prepare for disposal of large numbers of bodies in the event of a worst-case pandemic. That planning is not yet complete. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that "it is highly unlikely that in the 21st century in the U.S. that we would ever resort to mass graves."

In the movie, at the very end, the pandemic's second wave appears to be 100% lethal. In real life, pandemics do come in waves -- but it's extremely unlikely that the H5N1 bird flu could become as deadly as the movie virus. However, in the 1918 flu pandemic, the second wave was worse than the first. And H5N1 bird flu is a very bad flu virus. There's no guarantee that a pandemic version of this virus would be less virulent.

Garrett notes that people have warned for years that the New Orleans levees would not stand up to a major hurricane. Yet nobody ever got around to doing anything about it. Maybe, Garrett says, a scary movie is just what we need to spur pandemic preparedness.

"It ought not be necessary to scare the bejeezus out of us to get us to build levees for public health," Garrett says. "This movie -- yes, people will get scared. But I hope it will really show people why the current thinking about our "levee" for public health is inadequate."

SOURCES: CDC: "Viewers' Guide to ABC TV Move Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America." News release, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health, Council of Foreign Relations, New York. WebMD Medical News: "FDA Approves New Bird Flu Test."

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