CPP Curiosities: Influenza Virus

 Logo for CPP Curiosities

Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico afficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular segment on the unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. Today’s issue is the second in a three-part series of guest articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The KJF Program is a three-year after-school and summer internship for Philadelphia high school students from underserved communities who have an interest in careers in healthcare and medicine. These two wrote these articles as part of a two-week summer internship wherein they worked closely with staff in the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and conducted original research on a topic of their choice. This time around, Karabots Junior Fellow Cliford Louis is here to inform you about influenza.

The floor is yours, Clif!

Figure 1. “Preparing to Bury City’s Influenza Victims,” Scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning the influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, 1918-1919.  Call no. Z10d 7.  Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

On March 11, 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas,  a soldier reported a fever before breakfast and was later followed by other soldiers with the same complaints. By the end of that week, 500 soldiers were ill and being hospitalized. They were early victims of the infamous Spanish flu. An estimated  675,000 Americans died of influenza during the epidemic, more than all of the wars this century combined, and the disease killed millions worldwide during World War I. At first, scientists considered it a bacterial infection. Nowadays, scientists can confidently describe flu as a virus and explain what it does to the human body once they contain the strain of this virus. 

What is the flu …?

“The influenza virus is a member of the family [Orthomyxoviridae]” (Dehner 23), meaning that the flu is a group of RNA virus. There are three types of influenza: A, B, and C.

  • Type C is considered unimportant because it rarely causes infection.

  • Type B is mildly infectious, but it can cause epidemics.

  • Type A causes the greater threat to humanity; it attacks the respiratory system, and it is highly contagious. 

Figure 2”influenza virus,” Kathmandu Tribune, 12 October 2017. https://kathmandutribune.com/17-people-die-influenza-virus/

The influenza virus is a single stranded RNA virus and normally attacks the epithelial cell. Once the virus reaches the cell, it seizes it to develop new copies of the virus.

“Ultimately the influenza virus destroys any infected cell by destroying the outer layer. The daughter cells that infect adjoining epithelial cells quickly produce many millions of copies of the virus” (Dehner 24). 

This describes the effect of the virus inside of an infected person, and it shows why this epidemic was so deadly. Moreover, the explosive spread and large impact of the virus proves its immense dominance during the time of war. An infected person can transmit the virus to another person through the air by a cough or sneeze.


Figure 2 “Red Cross Ambulance Demonstration – Washington DC,” 1918 Historical Image Gallery from the Center For Disease Control And Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918

Animals such as pigs, waterfowl, seals, horses and whales are considered sources containing the virus; they can catch and transmit the influenza virus to humans.

“Strategies of containment and eradication are impractical because the virus has unquantifiable opportunities for jumping from its natural host to other species, including humans” (Dehner 27).

“To be effective, any response to a pandemic strain must be quick enough to stay ahead of the rapidly transmissible influenza virus, consideration even more important in today’s increasingly interconnected world” (Dehner 196).

Figure 4. Image from “Is the flu shot safe during pregnancy,” The Bump. https://www.thebump.com/a/flu-shot-when-pregnanti


Even with current medicine and increasingly powerful technologies, the virus cannot be eliminated in the world; therefore, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone from six months old and older. Flu season is an important time in the world; the recommendation from doctors, nurses and other medical stuff to receive the flu shot is very vital in society. These vaccines creates antibodies, which helps to prevent viruses including the influenza. ‘Influenza pandemics are relatively rare events.’

 Previous history of influenza epidemics around the world over the past century can really help scientists finding a unique vital antidote to eradicate the flu. A lot has been learned about the influenza virus, but there is still plenty to be known and discovered to reach the stage of elimination for the virus.


Dehner, George. Influenza A Century of Science and Public Health Response. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh  Press, 2012.

Thanks, Clif! Be sure to check back for our final guest article. Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

Philly Teens Show Their Support for Teen Health

Teens pose on the marble steps of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia during a March 23, 2018, Teen Health Week panel on substance use and abuse

Did you know that opioid overdoses claim 116 lives every day? Or that at least 25% of teens in the US admit to using at least one form of tobacco? Or that 60% of teens admit to experimenting with alcohol? Last Friday, a group of Philadelphia teens assembled at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to learn about substance use and abuse.

The event was part of the College’s involvement in Teen Health Week, a global initiative to raise awareness of the unique health issues facing teens today. Teen Health Week was the brainchild of College of Physicians Fellow Dr. Laura Offutt, in conjunction with the Center for Education of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. What started in 2016 as a statewide initiative to raise awareness among Pennsylvania teens has rapidly expanded into a global program, with participating events and activities in nearly forty countries on every continent except Antarctica.

World map with green marks to indicate places where THW 2018 events are taking place

Teens gathered in the Thomson gallery to meet with a panel of healthcare and public health experts to discuss topics related to substance use. Priya Mammen, MD, MPH, a Director of Public Health Programs, Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, and a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia shared her experience as an ER physician, answering questions related to a variety of emergency cases, including trauma and drug overdoses. Elvis Rosado, Education and Community Outreach Coordinator from Prevention Point Philadelphia, explained the devastating cycle of addiction in relation to the opioid epidemic. Finally,  representatives from Get Healthy Philly (the City of Philadelphia’s anti-tobacco initiative) discussed tobacco use in teens and the ways tobacco companies attempt to directly target teens as new tobacco customers.

Students in attendance also got the chance to show off their knowledge of teen health topics. Teams of teens took part in a teen health-themed quiz game, competing to answer questions related to mental health, stress, self-care, and substance use. All of our contestants came away with small prize packets of THW merchandise. The event also hosted a raffle for THW-themed yoga mats and a photo booth.

Teens dressed in lime green t-shirts pose together for a photograph during a March 23, 2018, Teen Health Week panel on substance use and abuse

Overall, we were excited by the outpouring of support from Philadelphia teens, who came out, wore lime green, asked great questions, and expressed their passion for taking control of their personal health. In a time of increased teen activism, it was heartening to behold.

If you want to learn more about Teen Health Week, be sure to check out our official homepage or check out the hashtag #2018teenhealth on Twitter and Instagram.

Philly Youth Kick Off Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017

Students from CEPI's various youth programs pose for a group photo on the steps of the PA State House with Dr. Rachel Levine and Dr. Loren Robinson

Did you know that teenagers make up 13% of the total US population? However, despite making up such a significant portion of the population there was no week focusing on teen health until 2016. In January 2016, Pennsylvania became the first state to devote a week to spreading awareness about the health issues directly affecting teenagers with the creation of Pennsylvania Teen Health Week (THW). Teen Health Week was the brainchild of Dr. Laura Offutt. Dr. Offutt is a Pennsylvania physician, Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and the host of Real Talk with Dr. Offutt, an online resource devoted to teen health. CEPI is proud to be an active partner in Pennsylvania Teen Health Week. January 9-13 is the observance Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017. This year each day focuses on one of five themes: Nutrition and Fitness, Violence Prevention, Mental Health, Sexual Health, and Substance Use.

Teva intern Su Ly stands at a podium in front of attendees to the proclamation of Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017 at the Pennsylvania State House

This past Monday we traveled to the Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg to commemorate the second annual Pennsylvania Teen Health Week. Philadelphia youth representing the Karabots Junior Fellows Program, the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship Program, and the Out4STEM Program were on site to show their support. The festivities began with statements from four prominent Pennsylvania physicians: Dr. Rachel Levine, Physician General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Dr. Loren Robinson, Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (and Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia), Dr. Robert Sharrar, Executive Director of Safety, Epidemiology, Registries and Risk Management and Member of the Philadelphia Board of Health (as well as a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia), and Dr. Offutt. The event concluded with a reading of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proclamation announcing January 9-13 as Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017. Several Philadelphia youth, including Xavier Gavin and Su Ly of the Karabots and Teva Program, respectively, bravely read Gov. Wolf’s proclamation.

Students from CEPI's various youth programs sit in the observation deck atop the Pennsylvania State Senate chamber and listen to a guide conduct a tour of the State House

After the reading, our students took a tour of the Pennsylvania State House, visiting the chambers of the Pennsylvania Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court. While they viewed from the observation decks of the respective government houses, we hope to see some of them as lawmakers and policy developers in the future (remember: the minimum age to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is 21).

Image displaying the logos of the sponsors for Teen Health Week: Pennsylvania Southeast Region Area Health Education Center (AHEC); System of Care, a program of the Delaware County Department of Human Services; the Craig Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; and Honeygrow.

Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017 is sponsored in part by the Pennsylvania Southeast Region Area Health Education Center (AHEC)System of Care, a program of the Delaware County Department of Human Services; the Craig Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Honeygrow.

Get Tested and Spread Awareness at National HIV Testing Day (June 26, 2016)

Flyer for National HIV Testing Day at the College of Physicians of PhiladelphiaDid you know that roughly one in five people who have HIV are not aware they carry the virus? This SUNDAY, JUNE 26, the College of Physicians will be hosting National HIV Testing Day. Come to the College and the Mütter Museum to learn about HIV/AIDS and get a free screening. The event will take place from 10 AM-4 PM.

Visitors will learn more about why it is important to get tested and how to live well with HIV/AIDS. Visitors will also have special access to the Historical Medical Library and be able to view a special pop-up exhibit about the history of sexually transmitted infections. Free yoga classes (between 2 and 4pm) will be offered along with information and activities to encourage informed decisions about health. Also on view will be panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the “1981 – Until it’s Over” timeline, courtesy of the AIDS Fund. Also on display will be “I’m Positive,” an interactive game developed for the CDC to teach about coping with HIV.

HIV (and STD) testing will be available onsite (provided by Bebashi and Q-Spot), and anyone that gets tested for HIV will be given FREE entrance to the museum. This is also a special STAMP event.

Note: Entry to the museum is free only for those with the STAMP pass and to anyone who gets tested for HIV onsite. (Find ticket info and general museum hours here) The Mütter Museum is also part of the Access Admission program. Access/EBT cardholders can come for $2 and bring three additional family members for $2 each.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Test The Pox Hunter

Much of the curriculum of the current cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program has revolved around games, from using games to teach our fellows about STEM concepts such as the spread of disease, crime scene investigation, and the Scientific Method to our Fellows designing their own forensic science-themed games. Recently, our Fellows got the chance to flex their game development muscles by acting as play testers for a computer game about vaccines.

The Karabots Junior Fellows test The Pox Hunter, a game about vaccination

The Fellows met with John Theibault who is part of a development team designing a game centered around public health and vaccination. The Pox Hunter puts players in the role of a physician in early 1800s Philadelphia whose goal is to convince people in the city to receive smallpox vaccinations in order to curtail a potentially deadly outbreak. The player pleads their case using different conversation tactics, such as empathy, reason, and intimidation, to convince a variety of characters representing different racial and socioeconomic groups throughout the city. Working individually or in pairs, the Fellows played through the game and offered their feedback. Drawing upon their experience developing and playtesting their own game prototypes, the Fellows shared what they felt were the game’s strengths and weaknesses and offered recommendations for what they would like to see in the final completed version.

The Karabots Junior Fellows navigate The Pox Hunter, a vaccination theme game currently in development

While The Pox Hunter is still in development, if you are interested in using games to learn more about vaccines, feel free to check out Illsville: Fight the Disease, an interactive activity that explores the evolution of vaccination developed by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

CPP Observes National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Person holding a poster promoting National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The Sign reads: "Take the Test. Take Control"

This Sunday, February 7, 2016, marks National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day devoted to raising awareness among the African American community of the impact of HIV and AIDS. The goal is to encourage people to take action through public education, community involvement, testing, and treatment.

In the spirit of the day and our mission to promote public health, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia will be hosting a full day of activities and programs aimed at educating the public about the impact of HIV/AIDS in the African American community and encouraging visitors to the Mütter Museum to get tested. Free AIDS and STD screening will take place at the College all day (provided by Prevention Point Philadelphia, Action AIDS, and Q-Spot), and free admission to the Mütter Museum will be offered to anyone who gets tested. The event will take place from 10 AM to 4 PM.

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia will also be hosting several relevant programs and demonstrations throughout the day. At 1 PM, there will be a formal presentation honoring College of Physicians Fellow Nathan Mossell, whose portrait was recently added to the gallery. At 3 PM Keturah Caesar along with Philadelphia teens will be presenting a performance called “The Situation.” The site will also be holding a day-long exhibition of four panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a massive quilt devoted to remembering victims of the disease.

For more information about our National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day programming, please consult the Mütter Museum’s page.

So What is Public Health Anyway?

That’s a good question. And one that we’re exploring this semester with our Karabots Junior Fellows. What affects our health more: our environment? Our genetics? The medical care we do or don’t receive? Or our behavior? And if it’s our behavior, how many of the diseases we get are preventable? As it turns out, a lot of diseases are preventable. Luckily, we had a public health expert come and talk to us about all this and more. Her name is Mahak Nayyar and she works with the US Department of Health and Human Services as the Deputy Regional Health Administrator for the Philadelphia region. She was amazing.
We learned about programs that can help us get moving, eat better, and get health insurance if we need it. We’re going to do our part. We promise. We even got a lot of leadership advice from Mahak. You can never get enough of that when you’re educating the next generation of leaders. Coming up this week? A yoga class! Om shanti!