Ergo, no one is safe.
And then they start rattling of information on how many times we touch our faces in a minute after touching GOD knows what else. Then we hear about fomites (basically anything can carry and transfer an infectious agent). AND then we see subtle shots of everyone touching things and other sneezing, hacking cough sufferers touching those SAME surfaces. If this doesn't make you want to wash your hands more then you are the nut. The film is a masterwork of pacing and making you care about the smallest of characters. Yes, this has a lot to do with fine acting but it also doesn't happen without fine directing as well.
The message "you are not safe" well worth hearing. Every time there is a warming about a potential epidemic that sputters out or doesn't appear it makes people skeptical and lackadaisical which makes the almost inevitable real epidemic all the more dangerous. Between 1976 and 2006 estimates of yearly deaths, in the USA, from flu range from lows of 3,000 to highs of 49,000. . Find out more on flu at the CDC website. Even the regular yearly flu can kill you.
In fact, there are few bad guys in this film--at least among major characters (with one exception). Everyone is trying to do their job and when some of them fail, when they do something "bad," audience members generally cannot blame them. For instance, we'd all put our families before protocol wouldn't we? Even if that wound up being a disaster? Yes, we would.
That is another way Contagion is realistic. People behave as you might expect. Some loot, some panic, some are led into profiteering they justify, some are brave but none turn into Darth Vader.
But back to hand washing. Hand washing gets knocked but it is one of the most effective ways to keep from getting sick. That includes run of the mill flu or a 1918-style pandemic.
One place you can find out information on infections disease is the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. They have information and links to information on infectious disease info everyone should know. They also have a section on bio terrorism. I had occasion to interview Michael Osterholm who is the director at CIDRAP during the Anthrax attacks. In a general discussion on infectious disease he said the one vital thing we can ALL do ourselves is to frequently wash our hands.
If Contagion causes people to do this we may have fewer flu cases this year!
One last not on the film. Often when you see a large ensemble cast of big name actors you can almost SMELL a bad movie. This is not the case in this film. Gwyneth Paltrow has minimal screen time and makes the most of it. Matt Damon, again, proves he can handle just about any role. He can be over the top or he can be subtle and convey emotion with an expression. Laurence Fishburne has the gravitas of Gregory Peck. Jennifer Ehle also stands out as an incredibly brave researcher. I'd use the word "gravitas" but I already did. None of these actors are alone. Everyone in this film makes you care about them--one way or another--without tons of character development. When that happens it means you have a great group of actors.