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Junior Disease Detectives is for teens — but I geeked out over it, too

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a graphic novel that uses trolls, aliens, and a county fair to explain how it investigates mysterious disease outbreaks. It’s meant for teens, but it’s a good read for adults, too

Nearly two dozen very serious subject matter experts from the CDC, the US Department of Agriculture, and the 4-H club contributed to Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak, which you can download on the CDC’s website. It’s a detective story with cover art that looks like something off a science fiction book from the 1980s.

And even though I’m not their target audience, I tried it — and it’s actually a lot of earnest, educational fun.

The book opens with a group of students at a 4-H club meeting, prepping for the CDC’s Disease Detective Camp. They imagine fantastical outbreaks they’d fight: in one of these imagined scenarios, medieval archers defend a castle against an troll-like army of germs. In another, vaccines keep an astronaut safe on a space station contaminated with an alien virus.

The opening sections are pretty cheesy, but the illustrations are exuberant.

And these imagined scenarios turn out to be a clever way of laying the groundwork about immunology, exposures, and outbreak investigations. The medieval archer scene, for example, uses a “Most Wanted” poster to explain how the immune system recognizes and remembers germs. And the space station scenario uses a face oozing glowing green slime to explain how viruses can get into your body.

Once those explanations are out of the way, the book doesn’t have to slow down as much to explain basic concepts.

And the students embark on their own investigation in parallel with the CDC to track down the source of a dangerous flu virus that sickened one of their friends at a county fair. That’s where the “disease detectives” part of the story really starts — and even though it’s billed for junior disease detectives, I read all the way to the end, too.

In fact, it’s actually timely reading: the CDC just reported that four kids were infected with new flu viruses at agricultural fairs — and the culprits were the same as in the graphic novel. So the book gives readers a window into the science behind outbreak investigations like those.

Sure, it’s delightfully cheesy, but that’s part of the fun.

There are more where it came from, too.

Next on my list? CDC’s Zombie Preparedness graphic novel.

Doesn’t hurt to know what’s out there.

Using Your Smartphone In The Dark Risks Speeding Up Vision Loss

The blue light that emits from your smartphone and laptop screens may seem harmless, but according to new research, it can be toxic for your eyes. Earlier this week, scientists at the University of Toledo said they’ve uncovered how blue light can lead to macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in the US. Essentially, the light waves contain enough energy to erode the health of your eyes over time.

“It’s no secret[1] that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens,” said University of Toledo professor Ajith Karunarathne in a statement[2]. On the light spectrum, blue light has a shorter wavelength, and thus carries more energy than red, yellow or green light.

That extra energy is why blue light can be bad for your eyes. Too much exposure can trigger a toxic reaction that’ll kill the light-sensing photoreceptor cells in your retinas. “No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light,” Karunarathne said, noting that the “retinal-generated toxicity” was caused only by blue light.

Another molecule in your retinas normally acts as an antioxidant to prevent eye cells from dying.

But as people grow older, their immune system will struggle to keep the cells healthy. As a result, a constant bombardment of blue light may very well speed up someone’s chances of developing macular degeneration. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye,” said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher who also worked on the study. “When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.”

So, how can you protect yourself? Unfortunately, blue light can be hard to avoid. It can come from sunlight and from our smartphones and PCs, which often sit directly in front of our faces.

But the researchers say that people should be careful about using their electronics devices in the dark. Doing so can focus the blue light directly into your eyes. “That can actually intensify the light emitted from the device many, many fold,” Karunarathne told[3] Popular Science. “When you take a magnifying glass and hold it to the sun, you can see how intense the light at the focal point gets.

You can burn something.” People can also consider wearing sunglasses and other eyewear that’s designed to filter out blue light. In the meantime, Karunarathne is exploring whether an eye drop solution can be developed to counter the harmful effects.

The scientists detailed their findings in a study[4] published in Scientific Reports last month.


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Investigation proves there was no cyberattack on the FCC prior to net neutrality ruling

Following a full investigation by the Federal Communication Commission’s inspector general, what senior officials believed to be a cyberattack on their filing system last May was not a cyberattack at all. Instead, it was a combination of a drastic increase in traffic and flaws in the system’s design, according to the report first published by Gizmodo.

On May 7th, 2017, the commission’s comment system crashed after John Oliver encouraged the viewers of Last Week Tonight to navigate links like that would easily allow them to submit comments ahead of the FCC’s December vote to roll back net neutrality rules. Thousands of viewers flocked to the site to leave comments about the proposed rules change, overly saturating the system and potentially denying commenting access for others.

Senior officials and commissioners, like chairman Ajit Pai, at first said that the system crash was the result of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, and a vast amount of targeted traffic was the cause of the system’s downtime.

But according to the inspector general, there was no cyberattack at all.

In fact, it was likely just design flaws in the system, paired with the increase in traffic from the John Oliver program (up 3,116 percent) that caused the system to shut down. “Our investigation did not substantiate the allegations of multiple DDoS attacks,” the report said.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put out a statement yesterday condemning the agency for falsely identifying a cyberattack as being the cause of the shutdown. “The [report] tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was a victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus,” she said. “What happened instead is obvious — millions of Americans overwhelmed our online system because they wanted to tell us how important internet openness is to them and how distressed they were to see the FCC roll back their rights.”

Chairman Pai responded to the report by placing the blame on another senior official, former chief information officer David Bray, in a statement yesterday. “It has become clear that in addition to a flawed comment system, we inherited from the prior Administration a culture in which many members of the Commission’s career IT staff were hesitant to express disagreement with the Commission’s former CIO in front of FCC management,” he said.

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