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Increasing Public Health Awareness through Technology

by Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region

The Centers for Disease Control has released a new iPad app called Solve the Outbreak that allows users to “assume the role of a disease outbreak investigator in the agency’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) by navigating three fictional outbreaks based on real-life events, ” per Carol Crawford, branch chief of the CDC’s Electronic Media Branch in a press release (http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0220_ipad_app.html).

I downloaded and played the free game and I must admit: it’s pretty addictive. It definitely “delivers in a kind of CSI-meets-public-health-policy mashup,” as the Kansas City Business Journal noted,  (http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/blog/2013/02/cdc-app-turns-ipad-users-into-disease.html). There’s learning involved, points and badges to be earned, and results can be posted on Facebook and Twitter in the hopes that social media will assist in both promotion and interest. Users get clues, analyze data, solve cases, and save lives, just like real disease detectives, while gaining familiarity with terminology and learning from health tips along the way. Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC Director, noted that people do not need to “experience an outbreak investigation through fictional Hollywood films like Contagion,” since they can now experience it virtually through this game (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2013/02/20/cdc-turns-from-zombies-to-outbreak-ipad-app).

This use of technology aims to raise awareness about public health issues and increase engagement with the CDC, along with encouraging young people to enter the field of epidemiology. CDC spokesman Alex Casanova told ABCNews.com that “the app was developed in-house and cost $110,000 to develop, minus salaries.”  It appears to be less controversial than the 2011 “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic” campaign that was developed after Twitter users responded to a CDC query regarding the types of disasters for which people are prepared.  The Outbreak app currently has only three scenarios but more are in the works. Who knew epidemiology could be so exciting?

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