CDC targets young people with graphic novel about variant flu

There’s the “Germ Slayer” and the “Medieval Archer.”

Both teen detectives are main characters in the latest graphic novel from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which aims to help young people understand the potential health risk of human influenza viruses that usually circulate in swine, but can cause disease in people.

Variant flu, though,  is not as widely circulated as other forms of influenza. Last year, for instance, there were 67 cases around the nation, six of which resulted in hospitalization.

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In those cases, they were most likely picked up through attendance at agricultural fairs and by being around livestock.

 The 53-page graphic novel, in the form of an e-book, is called “The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak” and it’s the second graphic novel the CDC has released. 

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The novel 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 earlier  “Zombie Pandemic” graphic novel. 

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“We wanted a product that  could reach kids and would be interesting ,”  said Douglas Jordan, a health communications specialist in CDC’s Influenza Division  who co-wrote the novel and managed the project. “Young people traditionally don’t come to the CDC website. We wanted to do something fun to reach them so we decided to do a graphic novel.”

 CDC has an existing flu campaign to reach children and parents about human seasonal flu viruses, like H3N2. 

“Unlike with seasonal flu, there isn’t a vaccine that people can get to protect against variant flu,” Jordan said. “Variant flu viruses have traditionally impacted children and teens who have exposure to pigs (or show pigs) at large agricultural fairs. We realized that we weren’t really reaching this audience.”

These “novel” infections also mean that in general, people do not have antibodies against flu viruses from animals, such as from pigs or birds,” he said. 

Another goal is to encourage students to pursue careers in public health, science, epidemiology and CDC’s disease detective work.

 The CDC developed the graphic novel in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and 4-H, the youth development organization affiliated with USDA. 

 “The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak,” is also available for free download from the CDC flu website and the Apple iBook store.

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