Meningoencephalitis Virus One (MEV-1) is a highly contagious and lethal virus that could kill millions of people globally. Luckily, this particular disease is fictional and was made up for the plot of the 2011 film Contagion.  However, Senior Fellow for Global Health Laurie Garrett, a Peabody, Polk, and Pulitzer prize-winning author and scientific adviser consulted for the movie, states it isn’t far-fetched. This was not an outlandish horror flick! Garrett said the film is realistic and mirrors outbreaks that have already happened, specifically several in Australia. Are you prepared if it were to happen tomorrow?

“One way or another we’re creating a world that is ever more vulnerable to newly emerging diseases.” -Laurie Garrett.

If you surveyed the world’s top virologists, Garrett said, the consensus is something along the lines of Contagion will occur.  So how do you protect yourself?  How do we keep these diseases from spreading? Is the government prepared to handle a pandemic?  Garrett joined co-hosts Vicki Childs and Carol Baker on the Here Women Talk radio show Broadsided (listen to full show here: Broadsided 11/10/11), and it’s scary stuff.

How does it start?

Could be from bat droppings getting into pig or cow food supplies that wind up on human plates.  Each species, including humans, has bacteria unique to their body that is not only safe from harming them, but is also helpful in food digestion. As Garrett points out, the spread of HIV was due to a strain of bacteria that was initially harmless in African green monkeys, but when passed on to a chimpanzee or human, became fatal.

It could start by accidents in high-security biology labs around the world (it’s already happened, folks), creating disease that is lethal to people and animals.

Or microbes invading agriculture. We now have acre-after-acre of genetically identical crops — what Garrett calls mono-culture agriculture — meaning pests and viruses only have to mutate to adapt to one type of crop.

What can you do?

It’s basic common-sense stuff, guys.  Be more preventive on the personal level.

Take it seriously when you or a loved one is sick, even if it is just a cold. Do not “tough it through” at work — your friends will not thank you when the illness spreads.  (On a funny note, while Garrett was talking about all of this, she was battling some sort of cold and sounded a little rough during the interview. There is, however, a big difference between going into the workplace and a telephone interview.)

Don’t shake hands with people if you’re sick. Tell people, “I’ve got a virus right now so I can’t shake your hand.” (Common courtesy!)

Any warm, moist object can be a temporary home for virusus or bacteria. So if you’re sick, keep your bath towels, kitchen sponges, etc., separate.

Wash your hands, especially after going to the bathroom. Garrett says, “Most men rarely wash their hands after they leave a public restroom.” (YUK!)

My personal addition to this:  In the event of plague-type circumstances, it might be time to isolate you and your family from others for a while. If you are ill, try not to stress over it. In some cases the fear can be just as devastating as the illness itself; stress weakens the immune system and it CAN kill you. Get lots of rest and drink water. Make it easy for your body to fight.

None of this means you need to take extreme measures to prevent disease. Garrett says there are “plenty of bozos” on the internet selling products you don’t need, but paranoia and gallons of hand sanitizer are unnecessary. General hygiene and social responsibility are the best steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

What’s the roll of government in this fight?

We may be in trouble!  Garrett says the government has proven resources for preventing, slowing and stopping outbreaks, but government has cut $750 million from The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.  Her comment: “We’re in a global village … The day will come when you will wake up and realize … we don’t have the capacity to respond quickly and save people … the cost in human lives and money will far exceed anything our little scrimping and cutting saved.”

So use common sense and get involved. Contact your congressman and let him or her know how you feel about this.

Photo Credit: Featured photo – Renjith Krishnan,