Every filmmaker hopes audiences leave a theater talking about their movie long after the closing credits — but, in the case of "Contagion," those discussions are turning into downright paranoia. 


The movie, which topped the box office last weekend, realistically portrays the deadly consequences of a global pandemic wiping out the human population. Naturally, this has led to fear and confusion on the part of moviegoers wondering if this is a warning for the future. 


"I think what the movie is going to do is show the struggle, how quickly things can unfold and why it's important to have a strong public health infrastructure," Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a senior adviser for crisis communications at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Times last week. "This is a fictional account ... but the fact is, we could say 'yes,' in real life this kind of thing could happen."


Some are taking that plausible scenario to heart, with one hospital outside Atlanta reporting an increase in the number of patients asking for tests for bird flu. (A bird flu mutation is the fictional virus in "Contagion.")


"It's an amazing teachable moment because, the first thing is, it's a movie — it's made to entertain, to be exciting and dramatic, and the real world is a little bit different," said Douglas Hamilton, who leads the CDC's 160-person Epidemic Intelligence Service. He added that if any lessons can be learned from the film, it's that people can take steps to prevent disease at home. No bird flu tests required.


PETA, however, thinks there's yet another message worth embracing: Don't eat meat. The animal rights organization plans to hand out leaflets during "Contagion" screenings, warning about the disease-causing dangers of factory farming. 


"Filthy conditions on severely crowded factory farms are the perfect breeding ground for deadly contagious diseases," PETA's site reads. "Considering that factory farms breed swine flu, avian flu, MRSA, mad cow disease, and E. coli, not to mention cruelty to animals, isn't it time that we ditch diseased dinners in favor of healthy platters of plants?"


Check out a trailer for the film below — and if you've seen it, tell us your (spoiler-free) reactions in the comments!  




Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

'Contagion' spreading paranoia among moviegoers
New film about the outbreak of a deadly bird flu virus has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working overtime to allay fears.