Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Science Sleuths! Tracking an Epidemic (Science Explorers-Follow the Clues) by Tamra B. Orr

Abigail grabbed a tissue just in time before sneezing--again! Abby had the flu, like her father and brother and almost everyone else Abby knew in town.

Abby's mom said the city had a flu epidemic. Abby's mom worked as an epidemiologist. Abby called her a disease detective. She watched for clues to find out what was causing an illness.

Abby has a question for her. "Where did this disease come from?"

Abby knows that what she has is called the flu, or influenza. Her mother tells her that it's caused by virus, a very small microbe, mostly carried by droplets from sneezing or coughing. But how did it get to her city? Who had it first?

Ah, her mom responds. That's what we epidemiologists call Patient Zero, she says, the first victim in a group or place. Over cups of hot tea, her mom explains how epidemiologists chart the spread of a disease among a known group of sufferers.

Abby says everyone in her school seems to have caught the flu almost at the same time, and her mother starts to prepare a chart with names, the date of first symptoms for each person, and whether or not they had traveled up to five days before the flu outbreak began. While Abby takes a needed nap, her mom calls all the flu victims they have come up with, and finds that only two had been out of town in that period. One is a kid Abby knows named Neil, who had returned from a trip on October 16, and a teacher, Ms. Jackson, who had been away until October 26. Abby mulls over the clues and concludes that Ms. Jackson has to be Patient Zero for her school. No one became sick until Ms. Jackson returned from her trip, and five kids in her class got sick on the same day a few days later.

The mystery of who brought the flu to town is solved.

Case Closed?

But, of course, Ms. Jackson caught her flu from someone else while she was away. There is plenty more to know about epidemic detecting in Tamra B. Orr's Tracking an Epidemic (Science Explorer) (Cherry Lake Publishing). Orr provides background information in a series of sidebar fact boxes, each with a magnifying glass symbol, including one on the epic so-called "Spanish Flu" pandemic in 1918-1919, which killed from 25 to 50 million people all over the world. But to solve the problem of a local outbreak or a nationwide epidemic, the trail has to go back to the source of the first case and which virus or bacterium is responsible and how it travels from victim to victim--a worldwide whodunnit that can be as exciting as any mystery thriller.

As an introduction to epidemics, pandemics, and epidemiology, this medical mystery hooks middle readers into following the scientific method to document and analyze data and formulate a way to prove or disprove their hypothesis. This book is a short (32 pages), but thoroughly engaging book for middle graders which links current events with the science curriculum in certainly a timely manner.

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