A-M u s i n g s

Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.

Life imitating art imitating life

I suppose it is my salvation, my prize possession and my curse that I have a phenomenal memory. Faces I am good at; names are more difficult; but images are permanent. So given that I enjoy an almost pachydermic ability to recall, it is not surprising that within minutes of wallowing in the wake of the tsunami of Ebola hysteria that is presently laying waste to all normal life on our island, I thought of the 1995 movie Outbreak.

Outbreak was an American medical disaster film starring Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and a host of other superstars.The film focused on an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba in Zaire, and later in the small town of Cedar Creek, California. Its primary settings are government disease control centers and the aforementioned small town. Outbreak’s plot speculates how far military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly contagion.

The film was a tremendous box office success. It also raised various “what-if” scenarios: media outlets began to question what the government would really do in a similar situation, and whether the CDC had plans in case an outbreak ever did occur Meanwhile, a real-life outbreak of the Ebola virus was occurring in Zaire during the time of the film’s release.

In the movie, Motaba was a fictional virus that caused a deadly fever in Africa in 1967. To maintain the virus as a viable biological weapon, two U.S. Army officers destroyed the camp where it was found after taking blood samples from the dying victims.

Twenty-eight years later, in 1995, the virus resurfaced in Zaire. A virologist, played by Dustin Hoffman, was sent to investigate. After his return, he asked his superiors, who knew the virus was not new, to put out an alert, which they refused to do.

Meanwhile, we discover that the virus had arrived in the USA via a host animal, a white-headed monkey that had been smuggled into the United States by Jimbo, an employee at the Bio-Test animal holding facility. Jimbo is infected with the virus through facial contact with the monkey’s saliva.

Not able to care for the monkey, Jimbo releases it into the woods. While flying to Boston, Jimbo starts to show signs of infection. When he gets off the plane he kisses his girlfriend just before collapsing. They are both hospitalized and later die of hemorrhagic fever.

Meanwhile, technicians in Cedar Creek run blood tests. One of the technicians accidentally breaks a vial, splattering the contents, infecting and killing him. The virus mutates into a new strain, capable of spreading like the flu, and numerous Cedar Creek citizens are exposed to Motaba. The virologist, a.k.a Dustin Hoffman, learns of the infection and flies to Cedar Creek.

Martial law is declared in Cedar Creek, and the U.S. Army quarantines the town to contain the outbreak. One man is infected when his suit tears; another person accidentally stabs herself with a contaminated needle while collecting samples. A mystery serum, E-1101, is introduced to those suffering from Motaba. However, the serum does not help the residents of Cedar Creek, who are infected by a mutated strain. A government official admits that he withheld information on the virus due to national security and Motaba’s potential to be turned into a biological weapon.

The military plans to bomb the town of Cedar Creek, with approval from the President of the USA. Somewhat amazingly, the military plans to use the bombing to cover up the existence of the virus. Dustin Hoffman initiates a search for the host animal to save the town. He broadcasts a picture it on the news; a woman realizes that this is the animal her daughter is playing with in their backyard. She calls the station, and the two men arrive at the family’s house; the host animal is captured, and the bombing is delayed.

Returning to Cedar Creek, they create an anti-serum. However, Operation Clean Sweep to eradicate the virus and bomb Cedar Creek is already in progress. I’ll not spoil the ending, but rest assured that the residents of the town are successfully rescued and cured.

As they say: there is nothing new under the sun. Reality has finally caught up with Hollywood. Maybe our leaders should spend more time relaxing at the movies instead of dashing hither and thither chasing their tails and searching for solutions. They could even stay at home.

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