Could It Happen? The Truth About Disaster Movies

Still, Gershon said the movie provides a realistic social commentary about the dangerous consequence of animal activists interfering in scientific research.

"I think this movie has more to do with the political note about what can happen if we release animals who are tested and infected with viral diseases," Gershon said.

'Outbreak '


A virus kills the inhabitants of the Motaba River Valley in Zaire. Although a firebomb is dropped onto the Motaba River Valley to reduce the chances of further infection, the lethal virus is transported to the United States by an infected monkey and begins a new epidemic.

Question you may ask:

Will wearing surgical or other forms of masks protect me from infection during an epidemic?

What the Experts Say:

Many characters in this and other virus-related movies are often immersed in the contaminated environment but are protected because they are wearing masks. And while it may seem unrealistic that a mask can shield a person from a deadly infection, a mask may, in fact, do the trick, depending on how the disease spreads, Gershon said.

"Some viruses spread from contact, and some spread from the air," Gershon said. "So a face mask will not protect you from viruses that you can contract from touching someone or something that is infected."

But in an "Outbreak"-like scenario, wearing a mask may protect some from the airborne virus, she said.

'The Happening'


In a mysterious occurrence, a number of people in New York City begin killing themselves without reason, in a calm and deliberate fashion. While it is not clear throughout the movie what is causing people to commit suicide, it is later discovered that a neurological agent contracted from trees and plants is causing people to lose their minds.

Question you may ask:

Can viruses travel through plants?

What the Experts Say:

We certainly have heard of viruses contracted through animals. But "The Happening" introduces the scenario of humans contracting viruses through plants.

"We know that plants have viruses," Gershon said. "But we don't know if viral diseases in plants can be contracted by humans."

While some plants such as poison ivy can cause reactions in the humans who have contact with them, there have yet to be any reported cases of viral infections by plants, she said. And there is no research in this area either, she said.

"Animals, yes, through bites and blood and contact," Gershon said. "But plants are undoubtedly fiction."

'Cabin Fever'


Five friends are on vacation in the mountains when one accidentally kills a hermit with a flesh-eating disease and dumps his body in a reservoir outside of their cabin. After another friend unwittingly drinks from the reservoir, she contracts the flesh-eating virus and passes the disease to the others, one by one.

Question you may ask:

Is there really such thing as a flesh-eating virus?

What the Experts Say:

"This movie may be referring to a bacterium that causes strep throat or a fever," said Gershon, adding that when a streptococcus bacterium infects the skin, it can cause at times a fatal infection that eats away flesh.

"But," she said, "that is only after a long period and if left untreated. ... There are symptoms and, for most people, it doesn't get to this point."

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