The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a graphic novel to help young people understand the potential health risks of human influenza viruses that normally circulate in swine and can cause disease in people (known as variant flu infections). This coincides with a report by CDC in FluView today of four new variant virus infections associated with attendance at agricultural fairs in two U.S. states.
While variant flu infections in people are rare, they can sometimes lead to serious illness, including hospitalization and death. Most variant flu infections occur in children exposed to infected pigs or their environments in agricultural fair settings. During 2017, 67 variant virus infections were reported in the United States, six of which resulted in hospitalization. Two of these hospitalizations involved children who were admitted into an intensive care unit.
“We are very excited to share this graphic novel with the public and hope that it helps educate people about variant flu and how best to prevent flu viruses from spreading between animals and people,” said Douglas Jordan, a health communications specialist in CDC’s Influenza Division who co-wrote the novel and managed the project. “We also would love for our graphic novel to inspire the next generation of disease detectives.”
CDC developed the graphic novel in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and 4-H, the youth development organization affiliated with USDA. The novel – available as a free mobile app – follows a group of teenage 4-H members who participate in a state agricultural fair and later attend CDC’s Disease Detective Camp in Atlanta.
When one of the boys becomes sick following the fair, the rest of the group uses its newly acquired disease detective skills to help a team of public- and animal-health experts solve the mystery of how their friend became sick. The graphic novel was developed at CDC and illustrated by Bob Hobbs, the artist who illustrated CDC’s Zombie Pandemic graphic novel.
The graphic novel, “The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak,” is available for free download from the CDC flu website and the Apple iBook store.
CDC collaborated with teachers participating in its Science Ambassador Fellowship to develop educational activities to accompany the graphic novel for use in middle and high school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classrooms across the country.
Earlier this year the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship piloted the first of these activities with over 120 middle and high school STEM teachers. This activity is being released with the graphic novel, and the program plans to roll out additional classroom activities throughout the 2018-2019 school year.
The graphic novel and its associated curriculum is part of a broader CDC initiative with USDA and other agricultural partners to raise awareness, knowledge, and understanding of a One Health approach to zoonotic disease prevention and response. A One Health approach recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment.