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CDC’s Playing Cards for Kids

Author John Cech
Air Date 11/10/2004

CDC’s Playing Cards for Kids Transcript

Emails from listeners have brought us very interesting ideas for stories over the years that we’ve been on the air, but none quite as unexpected as this. We recently received a link to the Center for Disease Control’s webpage for children which is featuring a very unusual set of science cards about the diseases that the Center is investigating. The cards, which can be downloaded from the CDC website, begin with anthrax and avian flu and move through the alphabet to Ebola, Hanta, and Lyme Disease to Staph, Strep, and West Nile Virus. This is only the first set of 19 diseases. There’s a second group of sixteen that includes chickenpox, polio and tetanus on another Center webpage.

Each card contains an image, always a realistic and often a graphic picture, of what the disease looks like under the microscope, or in the ways that the diseases affect the human beings, young and old, who contract them. Along with the images, there is a brief description of each disease, its origins, and what the CDC and other organizations are attempting to do to counteract or to cure it.

The link to the cards arrived with some quips, “What fun!” — “Go fish… eew, Cryptosporidiosis!” “Gee, Timmy, what the heck is that at the back of your throat? Oh, that’s just a Diptherial membrane… see?”

And I must confess that I also laughed, albeit ruefully and uncomfortably, with the commentator who sent them, in his Mad Magazine/South Park tone, at the gross-out factor of the cards.

But there’s more to this story, I think, than the raw surprise of seeing these diseases presented like this, unapologetically and without parental advisory warnings on a government-sponsored “kids page.” Something like this makes one wonder just when and how it is appropriate for our children to learn about subjects like these horrific diseases — that have ravaged whole countries throughout the world, including their children, and that threaten children in this country as well. How can we reasonably shelter our children from this knowledge, when it is on the news every day, and when it is becoming more of a fact of life for everyone in a global community that transports diseases every day across continents in the cabins of jet liners. Is it appropriate to simply show and tell what these diseases are, in simple, direct terms, as the CDC does here, for children who are curious to learn about them? I know, we all wish to shelter our children from these disturbing realities, for as long as we possibly can — and certainly no one is requiring children to visit the CDC website. But maybe, just maybe they have a point in their honest, un-hidden way of presenting these biological truths and fears. We’ll know in twenty years, when a Nobel laureate may tell us that the cure she found for HIV began with these cards, and this hand of woes.

Posted in Education