Sunday, September 11, 2011

How the CDC Would Deal With a Real-Life 'Contagion': Deadly vaccines? Expensive pharmaceuticals? Concentration camps perhaps?

Hollywood loves to bring us worst-case scenarios: catastrophic twisters, Earth-destroying asteroids or, in the case of the upcoming film "Contagion," a rapidly evolving virus that threatens to wipe out global society as we know it.

But while it's a fun fantasy for moviegoers to ask, "What would I do if that happened?" it's actually the job description of Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Ali S. Khan.

Khan oversees the brain trust of offices and laboratories set up to respond to the real pandemic threats that inspire movies like "Contagion." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Strategic National Stockpile, the Division of Emergency Operations Center, the Division of Select Agents and Toxins and other offices are constantly monitoring and preparing for a pathogen that could turn into a deadly pandemic.

"This is much more than about the health of America. This is about national security, our health security," said Khan, who is the director of CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

Khan said the CDC's first line of attack is to know its enemy: the genetics of a virus, how it attacks and who it kills.

"If you don't know what it is, you can't make a lab test for it, you can't make a treatment for it," Khan said. "Everything hinges on knowing what it is." more