No, not for real, and not the crappy movie, either. (I almost threw things at the TV when a lab tech stuck his hand inside a centrifuge in a Biosafety Level 4 lab. NO! That would never happen!) Incidentally, the picture is from a BSL4 lab. I never worked in BSL4. The highest I got was BSL3, which was our TB and fungus room. We also did some anthrax testing in there, when that scare happened right after 9/11. I would love to get a chance to go inside a BSL4 lab, though! There are only a few in the world.
This has to do with my latest online class, Epidemics. In addition to the course video, forums, and quizzes, they are doing a real time epidemic simulator using mobile devices. I don’t know exactly how they designed it, but apparently, they have designated a certain number of cases and places where they are occurring. When we scan our location, we find out if we’ve spotted the local cases, and they are considered to be isolated. I’ve found four in my area. Out of two million cases, some 3,000 have been found and isolated, so that should give anyone pause. People are often contagious but not symptomatic, so that guy sitting next to you on the subway could be shedding virus or bacteria ALL OVER YOU. Think about that on your morning commute tomorrow!
The truth is that if an agent is highly transmissible, it would spread like wildfire. (There is a reason Michael Crichton named his surveillance program and facility Project Wildfire in The Andromeda Strain.) With the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices and high level of travel today, I think this will give a fascinating look at how rapidly something like this can spread. I should have a big week coming up, because we’ll be going to the Notre Dame-USC game on Saturday (massive influx of people to the area, 80,000+ people in the stadium), and going to New Orleans on Sunday. I’ll be able to pick up a lot of infections at both. Not literal infections. Virtual ones. At least I hope!
This course, as well as the course connected with “The Walking Dead” out of UC-Irvine, promises to delve into various aspects of a pandemic and the epidemiology associated with it. There are also sociological and psychological implications that will be addressed. All of these things are some of the reasons I love the show, so I think it will be fun to go a little deeper and think about it a little more.
Stay safe out there!