The New Flu Can Fly

November 16, 2005

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Office of the Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Department of Health & Human Services

Re: Avian Flu Education

Dear Dr. Gerberding,

I applaud your recent participation in the online interactive forum Ask the White House, in which you wisely referred to the threat of an avian flu pandemic as “one of the most important public health issues we face today.” Thank you for the reference, at the end of our “chat,” to the impressive public outreach materials that you have assembled at . I was heartened to see the site’s apt motto: Get Informed. Be Prepared.

I am writing to offer my assistance in connection with the first objective. My only criticism of your outreach efforts to date is the lack of any effective educational resource for children. The H5N1 influenza strain is complex and confusing enough for adults. Imagine the high degree of difficulty that our nation’s youth must face in parsing through the jargon, misinformation and hysteria surrounding the bird flu. They need a comforting, age-appropriate resource to educate them about H5N1 and demystify this frightening malady.

In the spirit of public service, I have written a children’s picture book on this subject, the text of which is transcribed below. I am interested in partnering with CDC in the publication and national distribution of the book, preferably as required curriculum in the public schools. I have not yet reached final agreement with an illustrator and would be willing to consider your recommendation in that regard. I imagine someone at the intersection of Sendak and Van Allsburg.

The New Flu Can Fly

What would you do
If one cold winter day
A new flu germ flew in
And decided to stay?

“There’s a flu that can fly?”
You are prompted to ask
Listen up and I’ll tell
Though it’s no simple task

This is not the old flu
Not the one that you’re used to
The one with the cough
That from school has excused you

No, the new flu can kill
Drop you dead in your tracks
And though that’s a shock
Please don’t overreact

For I’m here to explain
How it came, where it’s from
So you can stay safe
For your daddy and mum

The new flu can fly
‘Cause it comes from the birds
And not from their feathers:
It lives in their turds

In from China they fly
With that flu in their guts
When they wing overhead
Then it shoots out their butts

So whenever outdoors
With no if, and or but:
Keep one eye on the sky,
And your nose and mouth shut!


I should disclose, Dr. Gerberding, that I am still tinkering with the ending. I worry about the potentially unwelcome assonance of the but/shut rhyme so quickly on the heels of guts/butts. As a result, I have been giving consideration to the alternative use in the penultimate stanza of class/ass, as in:

In from China they fly
And they fly in first class
Then they swoop overhead
And it shoots out their ass

And yet I suspect that the guts/butts formation is integral to the book’s emotional impact, and I am loathe to delete it. The other alternative is modification of the but/shut scheme, but I regret to report that my work on that front has been unproductive. Here too, the content is paramount: we must be careful not to detract from the practical prophylaxis of the book’s last line. Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Finally, let me simply express my great personal regard for you, the President, and the Ask the White House program. I look forward to working with you and the rest of the H5N1 team to get this important publication in the hands of America’s children.


Greg J. Matis

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1 Response

  1. Hellmut says:

    O my goodness! That’s hillarious! It’s a whole new approach to political correctness.

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