Original Screenplay by

Rob Perry

Part 1

Copyright 1998 by Rob Perry and NorthStarr Productions
All Rights Reserved

NorthStarr Casting

Meg Ryan
Ed Harris
Nick Lea

Dr. Kim Jacobson
Chief Microbioligist

Amgen Pharmaceuticals

Skip Westover
Captain North Star

Amgen Research Ship

Dr. Sean Riley
Chief Scientist

Amgen Pharmaceuticals


Scientists have been predicting that the world was long overdue for a devastating FLU PANDEMIC like those that killed more than 20 million people in 1918 and tens of thousands in 1957 and 1968. Could the recent outbreak of the H5N1 virus in Hong Kong be the next worldwide catastrophe?
Sweeper Cove Adak, Alaska
Adak in its wild beauty, with a few sunny days through the year, can be wet, foggy, stormy, windy and almost persistently overcast, with a mean temperature of 40 F and a seasonal variation of less than 20, relatively mild for its northern latitude of 52. Record temperatures were 75 F (August 1965) and 3 F (February 1964).

FADE IN EXT. ANCHORAGE ALASKA DAY EXT. VILLAGE OF BREVIG MISSION Arial Shot - Snow Storm View of small bay heavily covered with sheet ice with breakage's showing a path where the North Star Research Ship has broken through the ice to reach a very remote Eskimo Village. The AMGEN Team has traveled quietly through the Village so they would not raise too much fuss among BREVIG'S residents. By that afternoon the team and a local crew had begun digging, and they eventually produced a trench 9 ft. wide, 30 ft. long and 8 ft. deep. They came across several bare skeletons before they hit pay dirt, the well-preserved body of a 30 year old woman so obese that her fat had insulated her organs from the effects of decades of frost and thaw. Drs. KIM JACOBSON and SEAN RILEY are wearing heavy sub zero clothing. The winter has started in the frozen north, the Arctic wind is blowing and the figures are barely seen. They've just removed samples from the frozen body of a woman buried nearly 80 years ago in the remote Northwest Alaska Village of BREVIG MISSION, and it has yielded valuable clues about the deadly 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic that swept the globe. While they're packing flesh samples Dr. Jacobson gives her assistant some vital history. JACOBSON In 1988 I took part in an expedition to BREVIGN MISSION, to try to extract virus from long-frozen victims of the 1918 flu. Now we're ready to try again. With the wind blowing at 45 to 50 miles per hour and the wind chill factor pushing the temperature down to 36 degrees below zero, DR. JACOBSONS voice is barely audible. But she raises her voice and continues. JACOBSON We knew from hard experience that no live virus had survived under the permafrost. But our paper convinced them that technology had advanced to the point where even a dead virus could be of immense value. RILEY The moment I saw your Science paper, I told myself, There. This is it. I must go with her! They finish bagging the tissue samples and head back to their quarters. The blowing snow now is so heavy they are barely seen through the blizzard. INT. SUB ZERO PORTABLE QUARTERS (PRE-FAB) They finally arrive at their quarters and enter the warming room. They close the outside door and the sound of the blizzard is still heard but the temperature now starts to go up. They remove their outer garments and strip down to their thermal undergarments. The get into heavy sweat suits and open the door into the main living quarters. JACOBSON I asked Dr. MOSS whether he would accept and analyze samples of lung tissue from frozen graves, he said yes if I went to Alaska to get them. Two weeks later, here we are. The samples put to rest any doubt that Moss's lab had indeed found and sequenced key portions of the original Spanish-flu virus. JACOBSON I was struck by the uncanny timing of this journey, which took place just as a strange virus with great pandemic potential was emerging in Hong Kong. I was very apprehensive, as I was waiting for it to come and it didn't. But another pandemic, is inevitable. RILEY I was told that in 1918 another village thirty miles from here where its elders, after learning of the advancing plague, stationed armed guards at the village perimeter with orders to shoot anyone who tried to enter. The village survived unscathed. CUT TO: INT. SUB ZERO PORTABLE QUARTERS - MORNING Dr. Jacobson turns on the TV in the living room where the balance of her crew is seen. A newscast is in process with breaking news coming from Seattle Washington. NEWSCASTER Researchers from the AMGEN INSTITUTE of Pathology, based in Washington D.C. has found genetic material from the body of the INUPIAT ESKIMO woman, a victim of the disease that killed 85 percent of the villagers in a single week. The body exhumed by researchers in their search for the virus remnants had been buried in a mass grave. Dr. Jacobson is seen meeting with the research staff Ryan Grant, Captain of the North Star, A man in his middle fifties. Skip Westover the first mate of the North Star a strong looking man in his late forties and several members of the crew and Amgen staff. They are reviewing important points on flu viruses. JACOBSON Hi folks, I've been asked by some of the members of the supporting staff to give a brief rundown on what our research here is about. The genetic material from all flu viruses is in the form of RNA, a single-strand structure that is far less stable than the double-strand DNA. RNA usually breaks down in less than a month, and that makes it particularly difficult to preserve. A young Amgen staff member DR. SEAN RILEY has joined the review of the newly found flu virus. RILEY This could help health officials in the United States cope with the next flu pandemic. JACOBSON Records dating to the 1700s indicate that global flu epidemics occur every 10 to 30 years. With the last major outbreaks occurring in 1957 and 1968, I think the world is due for another such experience. We definitely will see another flu pandemic. The 1918 epidemic was particularly vicious, killing about 2.5 percent of the U.S. population. Victims often succumbed within a few days of contracting the virus. CUT TO: EXT. ALEUTIAN ISLAND CHAIN DAY EXT. ADAK ISLAND A team of women from GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL are seen playing cards in an old deserted World War II barracks. This evening four women, Gloria, Stephanie, Julie, and Janet, are enjoying a game of bridge. Gloria and Julie are beating Stephanie and Janet by a very large margin. But this did not matter, they were only playing for fun. GLORIA Julie, think we should play for money? JULIE (Laughing) I think that's a great idea. The time quickly passed and before long it was eleven o'clock. Janet declared that she had to depart, and within the next couple of minutes, both Gloria and Julie also left. Stephanie cleaned up and went to sleep, as did the other women when they reached their own room. The next morning Stephanie awoke at her normal time, and performed her routine morning tasks. But this wasn't a normal morning. By that afternoon, Stephanie checked on Janet, Gloria, and Julie. They had all passed away overnight. CUT TO: EXT. ANCHORAGE ALASKA DAY EXT. VILLAGE OF BREVIG MISSION INT. SUB ZERO PORTABLE QUARTERS Dr. Jacobson is seen watching the latest News with her staff. They are watching the report on the death of three GREENPEACE women by the Flu virus. NEWSCASTER Health officials report three women died at ADAK ISLAND of what appears to be a rare strain of the flu. We have a special report from our Health Newscaster Dr. ROBIN SAK of Alaskan Health Services. SAK The influenza pandemic, a global epidemic of 1918-1919 is the most devastating flu outbreak ever recorded, killing over 196,000 people in the United States during October alone. JACOBSON We need to check those bodies to see if there's a match to the one we found here. Captain Grant, will you check on weather conditions to see if we can head up there as soon as possible? GRANT I'll get right on it! JACOBSON After the discovery of the micro organism, bacteria, by Louis Pasteur, another scientist, Richard Pfeiffer, argued that a bacteria, known as Pfeiffer's bacillus, caused the flu. A French scientist, DEBRE, began to doubt Pfeiffer's claim and by 1918, had concluded that the flu is caused by a new, smaller organism, known as a virus. SAK (Cont.) Viruses are a shell of proteins, which cover a clump of genetic material. Many scientists don't believe viruses should be considered living organisms, as they aren't totally self sufficient. JACOBSON The virus that causes the flu is a relatively small one. About two hundred million influenza virus cells would fill the space taken up by the period at the end of a sentence. SAK (Cont.) Influenza virus spreads into the body either by inhalation or by physical contact. The incubation period of the virus is very short, one or two days. The virus spreads and attacks quickly. Symptoms occur with the onset of the virus, including a runny nose, sore throat, congestion, fever, headaches, fatigue, and cough. JACOBSON (Cont.) The immune system communicates very closely with every cell in the body, allowing this system to quickly counterattack the virus. White blood cells are designed to attack any foreign substance, while antibodies are made to attack particular foreign substances. They latch onto the foreign substance, and white blood cells surround and destroy the substance. RILEY Severe cases of the flu may last several weeks. Alone, the flu is not deadly, but it can weaken an area of the body so badly that a secondary bacterial infection can easily overwhelm the immune system. JACOBSON The immune system temporarily makes antibodiesto combat any specific strain of the flu that the body had encountered. Then if the body is attacked again by that same strain of flu within a period of six months, it will be able to prevent it. RILEY This natural immunization process is utilized by scientists, in the production of vaccines. A flu vaccine is made of the flu virus itself. Vaccination involves injecting a dead strain of influenza into the body, which easily overwhelms the dead virus and continues to make antibodies which fight that strain of the virus. JACOBSON There are, however, several problems with flu vaccination. First, all vaccinations are only temporary, lasting for about six months. The second problem is the need to choose which strain to vaccinate against, since it is impossible to vaccinate against all strains. RILEY Another problem with vaccinating against the influenza virus is its ability to mutate. This virus mutates very readily its genetic material, RNA, recombines or changes its arrangement. Most often, the changes are insignificant and the virus will still be recognized by the same antibodies. JACOBSON It usually occurs in animals, such as ducks, which can be infected by several different animal strains at once. For example, ducks can be infected by both a water foul and a human form of the virus. And this is the problem we have with the H5N1 virus. RILEY Many of the most severe flu problems can be directly attributed to man and human behavior, more than to natural mutations. For example, on multi-animal farms, certain animals feces are used as fertilizer. One species may get influenza from the feces of another species of animals, increasing the possibility of antigenic shifts. STAFF MEMBER Why do we even bother with shots? RILEY Many new methods of dealing with the flu are being explored, promising to lessen both the number of occurrences and the severity of the flu. JACOBSON A flu shot of the future may also involve the protein NEURAMINIDASE. This protein would be injected into the body along with the virus, theoretically alerting the immune system to the virus's ability to spread, allowing the immune system to better combat the virus. RILEY Certain drugs may also be able to significantly decrease the threat of the flu. JACOBSON Interferon is another drug that shows promise. During any viral infection the body's white blood cells make small amounts of interferon, which stops viral reproduction. The drug would be safe because it is naturally found in the body. RILEY We've been tracking the H5N1 FLU virus, which has killed fifty of the hundreds of people who are known to have been infected since the outbreak began last spring. The virus, which first began killing chickens, can easily be passed from one person to another and according to scientists at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and The World Health Organization. JACOBSON Because H5N1 challenges a prevailing scientific theory, Birds, it was believed, needed to pass the flu virus on to pigs before it would be genetically compatible enough to infect people. But in this case, the virus, appears to have gone directly from chickens to people, who likely became infected by contact with chicken droppings, or other chicken secretions or exposure to chicken blood. RILEY The jump across the species barrier didn't diminish the role that pigs play in the development of new flu strains. The latest strain was identified in 1961, when it killed thousands of South African terns. But until the Hong Kong cases emerged, it had not been seen in people. We say it's not possible that this virus has been in humans for a while and only recently came to light. We are now trying to unravel the mystery of how the virus was able to jump from chickens to humans. STAFF MEMBER Do you think this could be another pandemic? JACOBSON Like other viruses that carry their genetic material in the form of RNA rather than DNA, the flu virus mutates very rapidly as it uses the genetic machinery of its host cells to churn out new copies of itself. So yes, I think we could have another Flu Pandemic! RILEY RNA viruses are notorious for copying errors as they replicate either deleting a sequence of the chemicals known as nucleotides or inserting a sequence in the wrong place. JACOBSON In the flu virus, these random mutations account for what's known as antigenic drift, minor changes in the two proteins that stick out like spikes on the surface of the virus. RILEY This recombination of genes from different viruses kind of like viral sex and can lead to major changes in the surface proteins, changes known as antigenic shift. When such a shift occurs, people who are infected with the new strain of flu virus have no natural immunity to it because the virus is radically different from the flu viruses to which they have been exposed in the past. JACOBSON If the new strain is virulent enough, a worldwide flu outbreak can occur. Even with the advances of modern medicine, an entirely new strain of flu virus that was easily transmitted could kill thousands of people in the six months or so it might take to manufacture and distribute a vaccine. RILEY We are racing to develop a human vaccine against the H5N1 flu, if indeed it proves necessary. The most common strain is H3N2, the virus that emerged with the 1968 outbreak of Hong Kong flu, which killed 34,000 Americans. JACOBSON We fear that one of the people infected with H5N1 might also be infected with H3N2 and that the two types of viruses might swap genes, creating a new strain that could be more easily passed from one person to another. That's exactly what happens in pigs, which provide a vast reservoir for gene swaps because they can harbor flu viruses from birds, other mammals and humans. STAFF MEMBER Dr. Jacobson, what is the worst case as you see it? JACOBSON Worst case, if we have a really bad strain! We could lose over a million people before we get it under control! CUT TO: EXT. ADAK ISLAND ALASKA DAY EXT. VILLAGE OF ADAK INT. WORLD WAR II BARRACKS The Adak Complex is unique in that there is no adjacent civilian community on the island. All personnel, both civilian and military, are entirely dependent on the Navel Complex for housing and support. Adak International Airport include, two 7,800 ft. runways, taxiways, aircraft parking pavement, aircraft maintenance hangars, ground support equipment, control tower, terminal building, aircraft crash/fire station at a yearly cost to the U.S. Government of more than 30 million dollars. Sitting strategically halfway between Russia, the Orient and the U. S. West Coast. A Northwest Airlines Boeing 737 is seen landing on runway 35. It taxies up to the terminal and the passengers start to leave the airplane. Drs. Jacobson and Riley are seen discussing the Flu Virus with WOLF BLAZER of CNN News. JACOBSON (Walking down the ramp) Research deals with how flu viruses get into cells. The virus appears like the earth, and it has many mountain peaks and many canyons. Antibodies grab onto the peaks of the virus, because they cannot reach the canyons. However, these peaks are the mutating, part of the virus. Deep in the crevasses of the virus, there is an area, which allows the virus to enter the cell and is known as the receptor site. It will never be possible to totally eliminate the flu, health officials continue to investigate a cluster of illnesses due to infection with H5N1 virus. BLAZER Will humanity be wiped out by a deadly disease? JACOBSON If one day a virus emerges that can be transmitted as easily as the common cold and that has a 100% mortality rate, the answer is yes. A factor in the death equation is the high density of people on our planet today. Thousands of years ago, civilizations were significantly more isolated. If a cave man had contracted a killer flu, his local community and perhaps a few surrounding communities would have been wiped out. But others, being far from the afflicted regions, would have been left unscathed. BLAZER Why is that? JACOBSON There, people often live in close proximity to livestock. Ducks, pigs, horses, chickens and other farm animals sometimes pass to a person what had previously been a virus absent in humans. With dense populations in the region, it does not take long for the new disease to spread through Asia and then the world. The most prominent example was the plague, which struck Europe and Asia in the 14th century. BLAZER How serious is this STRAIN? JACOBSON A 54-year-old man involved was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Monday and died on Friday of complications arising from pneumonia. A 13-year-old girl was admitted into treatment at Prince of Wales Hospital. She died in three days. Investigations into the two suspected cases are still continuing. BLAZER Sounds pretty nasty too me. RILEY We advise the public that the best way to combat influenza infection was to build up body resistance by having a proper diet with adequate exercise and rest. The World Health Officials say the flu is credited with infecting 20 to 30 percent of the population each year and that 116,000 to 170,000 people ages 18 to 64 are killed by the flu and related illnesses annually. They arrive at the terminal and wait for their luggage. JACOBSON Meanwhile, in Europe, an outbreak of swine fever in Germany and the Netherlands led to a pork ban by Belgium. The News Agencies reported that Belgium would slaughter 112,000 pigs to prevent the spread of swine fever, there is no vaccine, and no cure. Two months later the same news services were reporting 800,000 to a million pigs would be killed. BLAZER So what are they going to do? RILEY Veterinary experts are meeting in Brussels today to review measures the Dutch have taken to contain and eradicate the highly contagious disease. The Associated Press reported that Weiss Labs has found that the possibility of humans becoming infected with pig viruses is more plausible than a fanciful scare story, as the British researchers wrote in Nature Medicine. CUT TO: EXT. ADAK ISLAND ALASKA AFTERNOON EXT. VILLAGE OF ADAK INT. ADAK HOTEL Drs. Jacobson and Riles are sitting in the hotel lobby watching the news from Seattle. A newscaster is seen with late breaking news. NEWSCASTER Worldwide epidemic threat by new flu virus. This unique strain of flu never before seen in humans could rage around the globe if the virus mutates so that it can be transmitted between people. JACOBSON It just never quits! NEWSCASTER WHO lab's around the world are making preliminary preparations to combat a possible pandemic or international epidemic from this new strain of flu. WHO sent an expert team to South China's GUANGDONG Province last week to trace the A H5N1 virus, contracted by 160 Hong Kong residents. It's the way they farm, out in the villages. They keep the pigs in the house, and they raise the ducks right next to the pigs, so there's a lot of opportunity for close interaction of the three species. RILEY This just doesn't look good! NEWSCASTER The theory is that influenza goes from the poultry to the pigs, from the pigs to the humans. This happens when human flu viruses exchange genes with flu viruses that infect birds or animals. The swapping takes place in pigs, which can be infected by both human and bird flu viruses. South Asia has the largest concentration of pigs and poultry, and will be the most likely epicenter for the next pandemic. The next plague, according to health experts, is most likely to be the flu. These new strains are the cause of flu pandemics. Pigs, which can catch both bird and human flu's, pick up POULTRY viruses from feces in the water. Humans enter the mix when they give pigs the flu, providing ample opportunity for bird and human viral genes to mix. BLAZER How soon before the rest of your crew gets here? JACOBSON They're picking up supplies in Anchorage, they should be here in a couple of days. BLAZER Is there anything we can do until they get here? JACOBSON We can take a cab out to the morgue and take a look at the three women. An elderly man approaches them and he seems distraught, he looks around and sees the trio are the only people in the terminal. ELDERLY MAN Excuse me are you Dr, Jacobson? JACOBSON Yes, I am. Are you Dr. Wayne? WAYNE Yes, yes, the flue virus is spreading and half the city has it and were loosing people left and right. Please tell us what to do? The man falls to his knees and rolls over on his back. Dr. Jacobson checks him for a temperature. JACOBSON Shit Dr. Riley, he's burning up! Were too late, the entire city is probably infected. They run over and grab their bags, opening them and grabbing masks, which they quickly place on their face. They hand a mask to Wolf Blazer. RILEY If you want to live a little longer you better put this on. They spray disinfectant on their hands before adjusting the masks. WAYNE Most of the city is in the hospital, but some of the infected ones left on a plane back to the mainland this morning. We tried to keep it contained but we failed. Dr. Wayne coughs a few times and rolls his eyes back and is still. Dr. Jacobson checks his vital signs. JACOBSON He's gone. it looks like respiratory failure. Shit I just can't believe how fast it's spreading! RILEY We need to call the WHO and the CDC and see if they can head off the people that left this morning. JACOBSON It's probably too late! CUT TO: TO BE CONTINUED

Copyright 1998 by Rob Perry and NorthStarr Productions
All Rights Reserved

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