“Yes, my char­ac­ter is based on Anne Schuchat.”

Modern Healthcare - - Contents -

If you’ve seen—or plan to see—Academy Award-win­ning di­rec­tor Steven Soder­bergh’s “Con­ta­gion” and won­der if the sto­ry­line could re­ally play out that way in real life, lead­ers at the Cen­ters of Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion had a clear an­swer last week: it could.

At a panel dis­cus­sion spon­sored by the CDC Foun­da­tion, Dr. Thomas Frieden and Rear Adms. Anne Schuchat and Aly Khan (also physi­cians) of the At­lanta-based CDC talked about the agency and the work of its Epi­demic In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, which pro­vides a two-year, post-grad­u­ate train­ing pro­gram in ap­plied epi­demi­ol­ogy (the study of health-re­lated events to con­trol dis­eases and other health prob­lems) that is fea­tured in the film. More than 3,000 EIS of­fi­cers—in­clud­ing Frieden, Schuchat and Khan—have re­sponded to re­quests for help within the U.S. and through­out the world since 1951.

Schuchat—who is the ba­sis for Kate Winslet’s char­ac­ter in the movie—said that more than 50 EIS of­fi­cers, or “dis­ease de­tec­tives,” are re­cruited each year for the hands-on train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s prob­a­bly the two best years of your life if you’re in the pub­lic health,” she said, “and a chance to help state and lo­cal health de­part­ments or work around the world and at CDC in At­lanta on ap­plied, prac­ti­cal prob­lem-solv­ing.” As an EIS of­fi­cer years ago, Schuchat was sent to Costa Rica to in­ves­ti­gate why ba­bies were dy­ing of a mys­te­ri­ous menin­gi­tis. EIS of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered the ba­bies were be­ing washed in baby oil that was con­tam­i­nated with bac­te­ria.

As for the movie, it was clear that Schuchat, Khan and Frieden would give it a thumbs-up. (Frieden noted that, as a govern­ment of­fi­cial, he couldn’t en­dorse it, but “you’re miss­ing out” if you don’t see it.)

And Schuchat said it was be­yond her ex­pec­ta­tions to spend an hour with Academy Award-win­ner Winslet and some of the movie’s pro­duc­ers to dis­cuss her own per­sonal hair and makeup rou­tine. “So when you see the movie, you will un­der­stand that she took my ad­vice: no makeup, no hair rou­tine,” Schuchat said. “Her wardrobe es­sen­tially is my wardrobe other than my uni­form,” she added. “So this is not a glam­orous part that she took, and I think it’s do­ing a lot more for my ca­reer than hers.”

Kate Winslet looked to Schuchat, in­set, for in­spi­ra­tion for her role in “Con­ta­gion” as an epi­demi­ol­o­gist.

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