A University of Iowa researcher whose two-year-old son died from influenza in early 2020 has helped develop an online game to teach children about about the flu and the importance of vaccines.
U-I biology professor Maurine Neiman is co-creator of the game, “Flu’s Clues,” where players try to determine which countries around the world are seeing flu outbreaks.
“You travel virtually to these different places with potential outbreaks,” Neiman says, “and you get to interview local scientists or doctors to find out what they’re observing, what they’re seeing, and figure out for yourself, based on information that you’ve learned in the game, is what you’re seeing consistent with influenza.”
Once outbreaks are identified, players return to their virtual lab to work on creating a serum for the vaccine. “The overall objective is to help teach really anyone but the overt focus of the game is on kids about what influenza is and what it isn’t, why it’s something to take seriously,” Neiman says, “and how to protect yourself and your family and your community from the flu and, in particular, by vaccinating.”
Neiman and the Iowa City Science Boosters Club teamed up with the Virginia-based non-profit organization Families Fighting Flu to create the game. “This is really exciting for us because a virtual setting, while it has its constraints, it also has its opportunities,” Neiman says. “In particular, you can reach many more people potentially across the country and even around the world.”
The game also contains important lessons about viruses in general, such as how to identify symptoms, determine differences between the flu and other viruses, and learn how vaccines are made. In large part due to things like masking and social distancing, the state health department says only six flu deaths were confirmed in Iowa during the 2020-21 flu season, versus 103 the previous season and 270 deaths during the 2017-18 season.