In the 1995 hit film Outbreak, residents of the United States come face-to-face with terror in the guise of a rapidly spreading, lethal virus. Central to the movie’s plot are the lengths to which agents from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are willing to go in order to contain its destruction. Though certainly not a new phenomena, the effect this (entirely fictional) film had on the American populace’s subconscious was fascinating. All of a sudden, a new generation of people began caring deeply about how the spread of disease and viruses are managed here at home.
Listen: We’re not saying the timing of this museum’s arrival on the scene was 100% related to the public interest spawned by Outbreak, but the David J. Senser CDC Museum did open its doors to the alternately curious or concerned public the following year, in 1996. In a factual sense, we know that the museum was created in conjunction with a variety of celebrations marking the CDC’s 50th anniversary.
Contained therein is a variety of multimedia and in-depth displays celebrating that ephemeral combination of science, technology, and humanity so unique to managing public health for a population of 319 million people. Exhibits on display include glimpses into emergency preparedness from a top-down standpoint, safe water for all, a history of how the United States eliminated malaria from within its national borders, and the newest epidemic to affect America: obesity. No detail is considered too small for consideration within the museum’s walls; food labeling is given its turn as an element of public health, as is HIV testing, and a breakdown of the effects of environmental chemicals on bodily functions over time.
Several decades on from Outbreak, some have found fault with the museum’s lack of a nod to The Walking Dead. Usually this quibble is abated after visitors are given a chance to wander around in one of those iconic hazmat suits that have for decades signaled the arrival of doom on-screen. As with the suits, and everything inside the museum, the most fascinating — some might say scary — thing about the CDC is that everything they deal with and do is real, no matter how sci-fi it looks, either from a comfortable distance or up-close in Atlanta.