FEATURE: Illustrator helps CDC give faces to infectious diseases

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Feb 07, 2019 - Page 2

A sense of humor and creativity have made the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) infectious diseases awareness campaign on Facebook popular with social media users.

The first posting, on Nov. 15 last year, was a cover shot of the fictitious “Disease” magazine, featuring a tall gentleman clad in black, wearing a monocle and a bird’s beak mask, under the headline “Exclusive interview with Novel Influenza A Virus Infections.”

The cover line teasers included “A winter fashion — large chickens crow later” and “Bye to the chickens? — avian influenza has evolved to become novel influenza A virus infections, a handsome and charming rebel character with a masked face.”

A profile of the character said that he was “male, 185cm, 75kg, born on July 1,” and “he likes birds, poultry, eggs and himself, but hates soap, mask and vaccines.”

The post drew more than 7,000 likes and was shared more than 3,000 times in two days, a record for the center’s Facebook page, which it has had for about 10 years.

Most of the comments praised the creativity, humor and artwork.

“I could not believe this was created by the Taiwan CDC. What a good job,” said a graphic designer surnamed Yeh (葉) in her early 30s. “This type of creative promotion is more usually seen in business advertisements, so I can see the government is also improving.”

“Seeing the government being not so serious makes me surprised and happy at the same time,” another comment read.

The center then debuted four more cover characters: Influenza, a young teenage boy who likes hip-hop; Dengue Fever, a sophisticated, mature woman wearing a backless black dress that showed off tattoos on her back and arms; Enterovirus, an androgynous child holding a doll, with a cover line that read: “Angel face, devil heart? The purest evil — enterovirus.”

The fourth character, which debuted on Christmas Eve last year was named Pai Ching (白淨, “white and clean”), a fair-skinned teenage girl with silver-white hair wearing a white uniform and holding a gun labeled “disinfection.”

Pai Ching’s profile said she has an incredible passion for maintaining public health.

Traffic on the Facebook page rapidly increased, with more than 100,000 visits by early December.

The CDC held a lottery to distribute posters of the characters, and even put up large prints of the “Disease” magazine cover on the outside of its Taipei headquarters so the public could pose with them for photographs.

The CDC on Tuesday last week announced its collaborator on the project was Turing Digital Co and released 16 articles with the characters in them, which attracted more than 2.43 million views in all — an average of more than 150,000 views per post.

Government policy materials have tended to be conservative, making it harder to reach young people, so he was very proud of the creative team for coming up with a concept that has made such an impression, CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said.

Lo Pei-shan (羅培珊), the illustrator who created the characters, said that it was difficult at first “to make these seemingly abstract things [viruses and diseases] more concrete, because they are not like those tangible things that we often see in real life.”

“That was also the key point of the project, because many diseases have similar symptoms and people are easily confused by them,” she said. “Now with the distinctive characters, people might more easily tell the diseases apart, as well as be more aware of them.”

Initially, she though the characters should be like people who can be seen on the street every day, because these diseases can be caught easily, but when she sent in her first design for Novel Influenza A Virus Infections, the CDC told her that “it didn’t obviously convey the message that it is transmitted mainly through exposure to infected birds,” she said.

“I later used the plague doctors [who treated victims of bubonic plague in Europe’s Middle Ages and wore a bird beak mask] for inspiration,” she said.

She also learned to add more distinctive details for each character, such as Pai Ching’s disinfecting gun and Dengue Fever’s mosquito-wing tattoo.

Her favorite is Influenza, the pale teenager who frequently coughs and has the letters A, B and C tattooed on his knuckles to represent the three types of influenza virus, she said.

She created Enterovirus as a gender-free child because there are various types of enteroviruses and boys and girls are both at high risk of infection, she said.

The looks and profile of every character were the product of many discussions with the CDC, she said.

CDC Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞) said the fake magazine covers were the first time the center has tried using characters in a public health campaign, and Pai Ching was designed with bleach as the starting point for inspiration.

“We plan to bring out more characters this year,” he said, along with related materials and content.