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Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy

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Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal


Volume 4: No. 3, July 2007

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Cover of the July 2007 issue

Virtual worlds have increased in visual detail and complexity, facilitated by excellent graphics cards and high-speed Internet connectivity, but as social networks they are still maturing. Victorian-era mechanical devices, such as the telegraph, facilitated not only rapid information transmission but also social exchange among people far distant from one another (1). Twentieth century technology went beyond signals to sounds and visuals, such as radio and television, to connect people and places with actual and vicarious experiences. In the 21st century, the growth of the Internet has contributed to the emergence of virtual communities featuring “avatars,” graphic self-representations created by Internet users for participation in online social networks.

Hygeia Philo (Greek for “lover of health”) is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) lead avatar in the virtual world of Second Life ( *), a visual three-dimensional space known as a metaverse. Carrying CDC’s mission into this new frontier, Hygeia has hosted a health fair and staffed a traveling health exhibit, and the avatar maintains a permanent location to conduct health education. Social networking and interaction are key elements of metaverse involvement, and participating in this new channel of information dissemination adds to public health’s traditional tools and methods of reaching specialized audiences.

This issue of Preventing Chronic Disease explores the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Community Health Promotion, including the panel’s recommendation to establish online communities for sharing information and promoting dialogue on evidenced-based approaches to community health. Through involvement with existing online communities, such as Hygeia’s presence in Second Life, public health professionals can gain an understanding of the capability of these technologies as they mature in sophistication, explore the interests and needs of the individuals and groups that participate, and develop the most effective approaches in reaching out to communities.


  1. Standage T. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-Line Pioneers. New York, NY: Walker & Company; 1998.

Cover artist: John Anderton
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