If researchers from Virginia Tech's Virginia Bioinformatics Institute have their way, 50,000 Boy Scouts might just turn into zombies as part of an educational game called "Virus Tracker" during the national Boy Scout Jamboree from July 16 to July 22 at Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.

Virus Tracker was developed by researchers at the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory to help people understand the spread of disease and the public health response required for disease outbreaks. The data collected by playing Virus Tracker can be used to understand how social contact networks are pathways for transmission of infectious diseases.

Designed to show how disease spreads, Virus Tracker allows participants to use scannable bar codes to "infect" other players. They’ll get points for infecting one another, but they will also strive to become and stay human. The codes can be activated at scanning stations or by troop leaders with smart phones. The troop that maintains the highest points on a certain day wins the game.

From the data collected at the Jamboree, researchers will create an infection tree to show how individual scouts spread the zombie virus within their population. The zombie virus infection will provide an excellent teaching tool for showing how diseases such as flu can become pandemics, organizers say.

In addition, other games such as Socialeyes and DSI-DC, also known as Disease Science Investigators: Washington, D.C., will be available at the Jamboree’s Technology Quest area. DSI-DC gives students the opportunity to play the role of a public health official deciding how to address a disease outbreak. Socialeyes is a social media application that helps players understand the spatial and time variations of flu-like diseases in a community. It can be also be used to forecast how flu-like illness might evolve in the future.

"We are very excited about deploying Virus Tracker and other educational applications developed by the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at the forthcoming Boy Scout Jamboree. Not only will the Scouts find these applications interesting, but scientists will also be able to learn about epidemics in important new ways," said Madhav Marathe, deputy director of the laboratory and a professor of computer science in the College of Engineering.

The game will be administered in conjunction with the institute’s award-winning education and outreach program, Kids’ Tech University.

Virus Tracker has been used with great success at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. It was also used to spread Hokie Fever in a "fandemic" at Virginia Tech’s Open House in November 2011. 

This project was funded by National Science Foundation award number CNS-1011769 and the National Institutes of Health MIDAS project.



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