Last night the SyFy network debuted a new drama program called Helix. The show is focused on the efforts of a CDC team tasked with investigating a mysterious disease outbreak at a remote Arctic research station.
Following a general trend in movies portraying viral infections--exemplified by Resident Evil and 28 Days Later--the individuals infected with the unknown virus exhibit symptoms of aggression coupled with superhuman strength and a zombie-like appearance. Interestingly, this virus spreads through a gross pseudo-French Kiss mechanism! Although this symptom complex is a favorite of Hollywood, it really doesn't exist in reality (rabies and other forms of encephalitis are a far cry from these depictions, however, they are as close a match as there is).
Though the show requires one to somewhat suspend disbelief at times, something especially hard for an infectious disease physician, it is entertaining. Plus, hearing the terms BSL-4, zoonosis, Ebola, Marburg, and icosahedron on television is always fun.
I am pleased that such a program is being aired for it shows the vital importance of managing infectious disease outbreaks before they are given the opportunity to spread to the general population. As the main character, Dr. Farragut, states, "When we drop the ball, thousands die."
By portraying the exciting and intellectually stimulating work that infectious disease physicians, epidemiologists, veterinarians, microbiologists, and scientists perform to combat infectious diseases such programs potentially serve as inspiration for those contemplating careers in the field and foster some familiarity with the process amongst the public.
When Contagion, probably the most scientifically accurate film in this genre, was released my colleagues and I hoped it might spark a Top Gun-like surge in interest in these fields, Helix could also serve that purpose.