High School Sleuths Track Mock Disease Outbreak at USC

Two weeks ago, they were 25 health-minded teens — some of whom traveled across the country to participate in a global health course at USC. Today they are graduates of USC’s Global Health Disease Detectives force, a squadron of gumshoe sleuths who sniffed out the source of a mysterious — and fake — campus-wide disease outbreak.

Hundreds of high school students got a taste of college life this month during Summer@USC, a pre-college academic program offered by USC Summer Programs. Besides health, the 26 two- and four-week courses explored engineering, architecture, business, writing, journalism and art, among other courses.

In the “Global Health Disease Detectives” course, students received university-level instruction from professors Jonathan Samet, Heather Wipfli, Jane Schmitz and Laura Ferguson, who represent the USC Institute for Global Health and its Program on Global Health & Human Rights. After a week of drilling down to the basics — data analysis, epidemiology and health governance — the students were inducted as USC’s second team of Global Health Disease Detectives.

“The USC Health Clinic has contacted the disease detectives regarding several reported cases of illness at the USC Summer Program,” announced a circulated class memo. Preliminary lab results indicated the illness to be mumps, a contagious disease that leads to painful swelling of the salivary glands. Two cases were identified as part of the outbreak, but several other camp attendees and staff members reported feeling sick.

After interviewing potential victims and analyzing data, the detectives presented their findings at a fictitious press conference on July 20.

“At the beginning of the course, the students were telling us their dreams of becoming doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers,” Wipfli said. “And now, after two weeks of intensive global health training and disease investigation, I think they’re well on their way.”

For more information about USC Summer Programs and to see course offerings, visit summer.usc.edu