There is a time of the year for everything: Baseball, football, entertainment awards, allergies and — the most dreaded of all — cold and flu season.
We gear up for this unfortunate season every 12 months and, each year, most of us will succumb to either a minor cold or a full-blown influenza outbreak.
There are over-the-counter remedies and homeopathic drugs aimed at preventing or shortening the length of a cold, but why wait until it''s too late to do something about a very preventable ailment?
There are vaccines for things like the flu and the more recent outbreak of the swine flu (H1N1), but there is an even more basic way to ensure you stay healthy come cold and flu season: Hand hygiene.
The importance of hand hygiene should start young, something the Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE) recognized.
In 2010, ACE, whose mission is to promote the responsible and beneficial use of products to ensure a safe, healthier and cleaner environment in homes, businesses and the community, reached out to Marvel Entertainment to see if there was a way for the two groups to work together to spread a disease prevention message in a nontraditional way.
The target audience for the partnership, which also included the Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology (APIC), would be school-aged children.
“I have two little ones, and the most boring thing in the world for them is to go in the bathroom and wash their hands,” says Chris Cathcart, president and chief executive officer (CEO) and secretary of ACE.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 22 million schooldays are lost each year due to the common cold, with hygienic shortfalls in the lifestyles of many children being the main culprit for illness and absenteeism.
“Educating kids at an early age is imperative in breaking the cycle of disease,” says Kelly Semrau, president of ACE.
ACE decided to create a child-friendly educational initiative on hand hygiene and its role in disease prevention by creating book covers geared towards school-aged children.
The covers would offer simple tips on how to keep kids safe during the cold and flu season.
Enter Iron Man
Through its partnership with Marvel Entertainment, Iron Man was chosen, along with the Alliance''s Ace Clean, as cartoon ambassadors.
According to ACE, Iron Man was chosen because, in the recent Iron Man movie, the lead character, Tony Stark, “has a compromised immune system and battles a sickness while still trying to maintain peace around the world.”
It''s no secret that the use of animated characters is an effective tool when teaching young children; just look at Dora the Explorer to teach children Spanish or Blue''s Clues for problem-solving.
ACE leveraged the scientific knowledge of APIC with the well-known character of Iron Man to instill proper hygienic practices upon children so that they may form lifelong habits.
Like most lessons, the earlier they are learned, the longer they are followed and the greater the benefits.
A Marvel-ous Event
On Friday, October 1, 2010, during morning rush hour in Times Square, passers-by were educated on proper handwashing techniques in an effort to stave off infections during the new flu season.
ACE, Marvel Entertainment and APIC offered live and interactive demonstrations of proper handwashing with the help of Iron Man and Ace Clean.
Free germ-fighting soaps and product samples were also given out to pedestrians.
A press conference was held later in the day at Midtown Comics in order to ensure that the message of the importance of handwashing did not get lost in the bustle of Times Square.
The event wasn''t just fun and games.
Initial reports indicated that total impressions for the Times Square event were at 58 million.
The event was picked up by various media outlets, including the Daily Buzz, which added an estimated three million broadcast impressions to those in Times Square.
Through this innovative project, ACE has been able to build a lasting relationship with APIC, which has opened the door to future projects.
ACE has also been in touch with Marvel Entertainment in an attempt to follow-up the popular book cover distribution with in-school assemblies on proper handwashing and other general disease prevention concepts.
It''s never too early to learn how to put your superhero skills to work in the fight against germs.