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"The glassy stares of the dead, the garbage piling up in the streets, the frightened, angry mobs smashing their way into drugstores and attacking food lines. The images in the thriller Contagion may be delivered with Hollywood flair, but they also have a ring of truth to those on the medical front lines.

In a stark, almost documentary style, the movie shows what happens when a virus makes its way from a bat to a pig to a person, mutating along the way into a highly contagious pathogen that kills 30% of those who get it. Toward the end, a newscaster announces the death toll has reached 26 million globally.

For public health workers, the movie's science-based premise is an excellent teaching tool -- we can all learn from it, they say.

First, no dismissing the premise as a Hollywood fantasy that could never happen, says Richard Danila, Minnesota assistant state epidemiologist in St. Paul.

That 30% death rate? 'It's very possible to have a new emerging pathogen act that way,' he says. In fact, one reason why the movie is so realistic is that it's modeled on a disease that so far has sickened 475 people in South Asia, killing 251 of them."

Elizabeth Weise reports for USA TODAY September 22, 2011.

Source: USA TODAY, 09/23/2011