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CDC app lets gamers play disease detective

By Rachel Landen
Posted: February 21, 2013 - 1:15 pm ET

iPad users can now pretend to be disease detectives with a new free app from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Solve the Outbreak” allows gamers to fight one of three fictional outbreaks as an investigator in the agency's Epidemic Intelligence Service. As they examine clues and data to discover the source of the outbreak, users answer questions and make decisions to determine the fate of their constituents.

“The goal is to use new technology to provide an engaging, interactive way for users to learn how CDC solves outbreaks, thereby increasing general knowledge about real-life public health issues,” Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in a news release.

Options include actions such as talking to villagers, quarantining them, or requesting additional lab results. Better answers produce better scores (and more lives saved), and better scores help promote the user from trainee to the ultimate rank of disease detective.

The game provides users with health tips and teaches them about epidemiology, the science used to study the patterns, causes and effects of diseases on the general public.

“This is a great learning tool for science teachers, teens, young adults, public health enthusiasts and mystery lovers,” Carol Crawford, chief of the CDC’s electronic media branch, said in the release.

The initial three cases are based on actual public health events that the EIS has solved, though Crawford said they expect to add more scenarios to the app.

The EIS was established in the early 1950s, recruiting physicians, veterinarians, scientists and other health professionals into a two-year on-the-job training program in epidemiology. EIS officers conduct public health research and surveillance, but are also available to investigate domestic and global disease outbreaks, health emergencies and disasters.

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