Virtual flu shots for kids of Whyville

The virtual world Whyville has undertaken a novel approach to educating kids about the dangers of influenza and the preventative measures that can be taken to protect from it: giving users virtual flu shots.

The idea is to give "vaccinations" against the "Why-Flu," a made-up disease that is intended to simulate the spread of the common flu.

Coordinated by Whyville and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu vaccination initiative is seen as a way to help kids--the users of Whyville--see that the flu is dangerous but preventable.

"The citizens of Whyville will have the opportunity to receive a flu shot which will result in immunity to the 'Why-Flu,' a simulated virtual version of common influenze," a press release about the effort said. "Similar to a real flu, the Why-Flu is 'contact' in the virtual community, such as being in the same vicinity as another citizen's infected avatar."

Without the vaccination, the release continued, Whyville users are expected to get "sick" and start to show symptoms: virtual sneezing and red boils on avatars' faces.

And this isn't the first time Whyville has attempted to scare its users into getting the virtual shots. In 2002, the first strains of "Why-Pox" began spreading, and it has returned each year since. The National Science Foundation at UCLA has conducted a research study about the affliction.

The only question left, it seems, is whether avatars will get to take a day off if they get sick.

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