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Outbreak (the movie)

Naomi Gayle Housman nhousma at EMORY.EDU
Tue Mar 14 03:25:31 EST 1995


I too have just seen the movie Outbreak and approached from different 
perspectives.  As a scientist, I found the movie to be unfortunately 
unrealistic with the given time frames in which the airborne variant 
developed.  So I would agree with the earlier point made by Patrick.  
However, we are talking about hollywood and as usual what hollywood makes 
does not often conform the confines of this reality.  Currently I am 
studying HIV-1 and its ability to mutate/evolve in vivo by sequencing 
virus from patient samples.  I mention that to indicate the potential 
importance of communicating the message that this virus' ability to 
change is tremendous and I don't think that most people outside of the 
lab have an appreciation for this.  The question of "Why don't we have a 
vaccine to HIV yet?" rings often in casual conversation in which I am 
usually the designated hitter for Science, the lone spokesperson.  I 
respond usually by saying that we don't understand the correlates of 
protection and therefore have difficulty identifying the magical epitopes 
critical for viral neutralization in vivo.  But here's the point 
regarding the potential value of the movie (emphasis on the potential 
part).  Perhaps by watching the movie people can get an appreciation for 
how science is done, although not as dramatically and in such short 
notice.  At least this is my hope.

In response to Patrick's other point regarding conspiracy theories that 
abound concerning the origin of HIV, I would have to offer a note of 
caution with the tone of the criticism.  As an African-American and a 
scientist, I would have to emphasize the deep and sincere mistrust that 
many A-A's have towards the medical research community, particularly in 
light of highly publisized historical events such as the Tuskegee 
Experiments etc.  In addition, I would have to agree with the criticisms 
that have been offered concerning the lack of communication that is so 
very vital between science/research community and the 'lay'-community.  
Most people do not understand what HIV is, what AIDS is, and how the two 
relate.  I would fault our less than appropriate educational system 
(public and private) for most of the public ignorance regarding the 
aforementioned two.  Yes, true enough, anyone can go to their respective 
public libraries and read journals and text books, but have they been 
given the tools by which understanding is achieved?  Our notion of public 
health lacks vision and common sense.  It is clear to me that we will not 
have any effective vaccine for HIV-1 or -2 for quite some time.  In the 
mean time, more and more people are becoming infected mostly women of 
color.  In fact, according to the latest statistics that I heard at the 
Wash., D.C. meeting last month, 2/3 of the AIDS incidence in women is 
within minority female populations.  That is astounding considering the 
demographics in this country.  Again maybe this movie will cause some to 
think about their health more often and consider the impact of a 
communicable virus such as Ebola or HIV.  Again at least this is my hope.

HIV is not the last retrovirus of epidemiological significance that we 
will have to face in the future.  This is a test, how we respond to this 
test will dictate our future responses to emerging biomedical challenges.
I wish us luck....

Chad Womack
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (I'll believe it when I see it)
National Centers for Infectious Diseases
Div. HIV/AIDS, Immunology Br
Atlant, GA 

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