'Contagion' No. 1 at box office; may drive moviegoers in search of flu shots
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The blockbuster movie release of "Contagion" this past weekend may drive more people to seek out their flu shot, proposed the director of the New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness. "Contagion," a movie that mirrors the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, was the No. 1 movie coming out of the weekend with an estimated $23.1 million debut.
“'Contagion' will probably scare some people but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it motivates them to get vaccinated,” New Jersey Center for Public Health Preparedness director George DiFerdinando said. “The fact is, seasonal flu should worry people. In an ‘average’ year, the flu can kill more than 30,000 Americans and cause 200,000 hospitalizations. So, if 'Contagion' convinces even one more person to get vaccinated, that’s a good thing.”
Despite months of preparation by public health officials, seasonal flu remains a moving target that never takes a year off, DiFerdinando said. “The influenza virus isn’t like small pox or polio viruses that have remained the same over the years. The flu virus constantly mutates, even while it’s in your body. The virus that makes you sick could actually be different from the one you pass on to another person.”
The ability of the virus to mutate helps explain why flu seasons can be unpredictable and why some people will develop the illness even after they have been vaccinated, he said. “The seasonal flu vaccine can never be 100% effective, but it’s still very good,” DiFerdinando added. “Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, you are likely to get a much less severe case."
This year’s vaccine will again contain one strain of influenza B virus and two strains of influenza A (including the H1N1 virus that caused the worldwide pandemic two years ago). The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for virtually all individuals who are older than six months of age.