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Across the Curriculum

Resources to Frame Discussions of COVID-19

Author: Roberto Lewis

The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us thinking about infectious disease, and how our individual choices affect the health and welfare of our communities.

This week, we’re featuring several series that discuss the intersection of community and health, with content that you can use to frame lessons about COVID-19.

Emerging Infectious Diseases

Rediscovering Biology: Molecular to Global Perspectives is a series about recent developments in science designed for high school biology teachers. Produced in 2003, Rediscovering Biology is a snapshot of the state of the life sciences at the beginning of the 21st century. The Emerging Infectious Diseases unit describes how viruses and bacteria infect human beings and cause illnesses. The lessons it teaches are as powerful as ever. It talks about how scientists fight their spread, and how we can change our habits in order to protect ourselves. The series combines interviews with experts in the fields of medicine, genomics, microbiology and biophysics. Together, these experts survey the efforts of the public health community to understand and contain the reemergence of diseases that many of us thought had been beaten by modern medicine:

  • Captain Daniel Carucci, M.D., Ph.D., former Director of the Malaria Program at the Naval Medical Research Center, explains how malaria operates inside the human body, how approaches to treating it have changed over time, and the challenge of creating vaccines for its newer, drug-resistant strains.
  • Dr. Rita Colwell, an environmental microbiologist and the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation, discusses biocomplexity – the concept of examining disease in a global, holistic, multidisciplinary fashion – and its implications for public health practices.
  • Dr. Stuart B. Levy, a professor of Molecular and Microbiology and a professor of medicine at Tufts University, as well as former President of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, explains the process by which bacteria develop resistance to drugs and the dangers of the misuse of antibiotics.
  • Dr. Judith M. Martin, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, describes the results of her study of strep throat infections in elementary school children, and how the overprescription of certain antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant strains of the disease.
  • Dr. Lukas K. Tamm, a professor of Biophysics at the University of Virginia, describes the lessons learned from decades of influenza pandemics, including how viruses jump from host to host when they mutate, and what research and strategies help save lives. 

Human Population Dynamics

The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science is designed for high school science teachers and undergraduate students. Produced in 2007, its Human Population Dynamics unit examines how increasing population density, climate change and patterns of human consumption affect the quality of our lives. It is a particularly relevant series for this Earth Day week, as the challenges we face have only grown. 

  • Professor Deborah Balk, a demographer at the Baruch School of Public Affairs and former Acting Director of the Institute for Demographic Research at the City University of New York, explains how researchers can forecast and evaluate the effects of climate change on densely populated developing nations.
  • Dr. Martha Farnsworth Richie, former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, talks about the types of tradeoffs that will be necessary as population density increases and sea levels rise.

Disease Lab 

Disease Lab is an interactive activity contained within the Habitable Planet series. Part of the Human Population Dynamics unit, Disease Lab shows how the ways in which people interact with each other can affect the severity and breadth of an epidemic. Users can modify the population density, level of social interaction, and vaccination rate of a simulated population. They can then record the rates of death, immunity, and infection that result after exposure to a set of fictional diseases such as Kold, Neasles, or Impfluenza.

Inference for Two-Way Tables

Against All Odds: Inside Statistics is a video series that uses practical examples from a variety of disciplines to illustrate the principles of statistics. In Inference for Two-Way Tables, Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at Harvard University, studies outbreaks of Lassa fever in West Africa. While examining the phenomenon of genetic resistance to disease, she notes that children born with the non-expressing gene for Sickle-cell disease also seem to have a resistance to malaria. Pardis uses a two-way table to compare the hemoglobin genes of children suffering from malaria, in order to determine whether the apparent connection between Sickle-cell disease and malaria resistance is statistically significant.

Additional Resources for Teaching About Infectious Diseases and COVID-19:

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