Netflix’s ‘Pandemic’ Eerily Predicted COVID-19

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Netflix’s docuseries “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak” began streaming in January 2020, eerily predicting the current COVID-19 crisis.

Filmed in 2019, the series follows several doctors and researchers in their quests to prepare for another pandemic, like the 1918 deadly influenza virus. It killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people — more than the two World Wars combined — within 18 months.

“It’s a guarantee that another version of that killer flu will reappear,” Dr. Dennis Carroll, director of the Emerging Threats Unit of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in the first episode of the series.

Now, a few months later, the series offers insight for viewers looking to better understand the current pandemic.

The series “Pandemic” arose from conversations Los Angeles filmmaker-doctor Ryan McGarry had with people about the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu of 1918, according to the Los Angeles Times.

McGarry is a doctor who works at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He told the Los Angeles Times he wants people to recognize the incredible work that not only healthcare professionals but also support staff like custodial workers, are doing during the COVID-19 crisis, as they put their lives on the line.

“We started looking into the people around the world and in the United States, whose entire careers were based on trying to make sure that 1918 never happened again,” McGarry told the Los Angeles Times.

“Yet most of these people, they were having their budgets slashed or they were not being taken seriously,” he said. “And, well, here we are.”

The six-part docuseries “Pandemic” arose from conversations had by Los Angeles filmmaker-doctor Ryan McGarry about the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu of 1918, according to the Los Angeles Times. The filmmaker then began to follow pandemic experts, including vaccine researchers, doctors treating swine flu (H1N1), and professionals who prepare for medical institutions for pandemics.

“We started looking into the people around the world and in the United States, whose entire careers were based on trying to make sure that 1918 never happened again,” McGarry told the Los Angeles Times. “Yet most of these people, they were having their budgets slashed or they were not being taken seriously. And, well, here we are.”

McGarry is a doctor who works at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He told the Los Angeles Times he wants people to recognize the incredible work that not only healthcare professionals, but also support staff like custodial workers, are doing during the COVID-19 crisis, as they put their lives on the line.

How Special Pathogens Spread Deadly Viruses

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 1 billion annual seasonal flu cases worldwide. An estimated 650,000 cases result in death each year.

In the last 50 years, virtually all deadly influenza viruses have emerged from China. Dr. Caroll refers to population increase, which has resulted in an increased demand for animal protein worldwide, as a primary factor. Raising animals in confined spaces “elevates the risk for a virus to spread and mutate at a rapid rate,” he said.

The series explains how “special pathogens,” like avian influenza (bird flu), exist in wildlife, like ducks, then move to livestock like chickens, and finally to humans.

Dr. Syra Madad, who launched the Global Health Center in 2019 to partner with healthcare institutions worldwide to prepare for a pandemic, defines the characteristics of a special pathogen as:

1) causing high mortality rates

2) causing public panic

3) being hard to treat

4) being highly contagious

In the series, Dr. Ghazi Kayali tracks the special pathogen coronavirus, of which COVID-19 is a new strain, linked to bats throughout the Middle East. Various episodes show Kayali in Egypt, a hot spot where avian influenza returns every year, as well as in Lebanon.

He works to attempt to catch a virus before it mutates, in order to help break the transmission cycle from animals to humans.

Deb Carter, a field veterinarian in the Southeastern United States, tests wild ducks to identify subtypes of influenza. Because ducks migrate from Saskatchewan, Canada, to Argentina every year, they’re very capable of spreading illnesses far and wide.

In another part of the world, Dr. Michel Yao works with the Ebola outbreak. West Africa had its worst Ebola outbreak from 2014–2016, with 30,000 to 50,000 cases.

Health professionals in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, must be meticulous when working with special pathogens. If they miss one case, it can trigger six more, then multiply, creating a very high risk of spreading to other countries, Dr. Yao said.

“A flu pandemic would likely kill hundreds of millions of people,” Dr. Dinesh Vijay, a pulmonologist in India who has been treating patients suffering from swine flu, said in the series. “Most countries remain underprepared and underinvested in measures to deal with this threat.”

Foreshadowing the Current Crisis

In 2019, when the series was filmed, Dr. Madad is seen conducting drills to help health professionals prepare for pandemics. In the series, she warns of the dire consequences of failing to recognize a pandemic as a global crisis.

“We’re all in it together, and the greater our complacency, the greater the crisis will be,” Dr. Madad said.

According to Dr. Madad, an estimated 3,000 commercial flights pass through New York City daily. If one person comes through the city with a special pathogen, it can spread throughout the U.S. in a month and throughout the world in two months.

With New York City as an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak only a few weeks ago, Dr. Madad’s words have become prophetic.

Finally, Dr. Caroll wraps up the six-part docuseries with a warning about another deadly virus emerging — and the importance of being prepared.

“Influenza and respiratory viruses are the ones we’re concerned about in terms of being able to spread rapidly from one human to another and spread from country to country,” Dr. Carroll said.

“And when we’re talking about the wellbeing of seven-plus billion people, policymakers and planners and global health leaders, they should be thinking about this in serious terms. We have to be prepared. We have to be vigilant.”

You can watch “Pandemic” on Netflix.

By Kimberly Nicoletti

Kimberly Nicoletti is a freelance journalist, editor and writing coach based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She has been published in Natural Health magazine, Fitness Republic, SheKnows.com, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dallas AM News, Minnesota Magazine, The Denver Post and a variety of regional magazines including Aspen Philanthropist, Aspen Times Weekly, Vail Valley, Vail Health, Mountain Gazette, CO Yoga + Life and Spoke + Blossom. She has been the managing editor of several magazines, most currently in Snowmass, CO. She has a masters in somatic psychology and loves writing about health, people, travel and anything related to living a creative, authentic life.

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