Public health laboratory scientists work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct surveillance for the influenza virus. Thousands have died from the flu during the past three decades, making it necessary for public health laboratory scientists to be disease detectives that help protect the public from serious illness. The data these scientists generate through testing is extremely critical in managing the spread and treatment of the flu, in identifying new strains, and in annual flu vaccine development.
Public health laboratories across the United States work with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct year-round surveillance for influenza viruses. From 1977 to 2007 annual flu related deaths have ranged from over 3,000 to over 49,000 making it necessary for public health laboratory scientists to be disease detectives, monitoring changes in the virus and disseminating information to doctors, hospitals, and the public so they know how to protect themselves from this virus! This means that PHL scientists work hard to find out when and where flu activity is occurring, determining what flu viruses are circulating, helping monitor flu viruses for antiviral resistance, looking for changes in the flu virus and novel or new strains of flu, and detecting outbreaks. Public health laboratory scientists also play an important role in helping determine which flu viruses will be part of the flu vaccine each year.
Lesson Plans & Experiments
- This lesson plan teaches students about the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people and has students think critically about a public health crisis using a movie, questions and topics for class discussions.
- Note: The DVD will need to be purchased. A .pdf can be downloaded from the site below for ease of use.
- This lesson plan teaches students about the nature of disease outbreaks in relation to public health and epidemiology. The lesson is based on the movie Contagion and describes a fictional influenza pandemic.
Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
- Good hand hygiene is an important step to prevent infection with the influenza virus or other microorganisms. If you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water, decontaminating your hands with hand sanitizer is a good preventive measure.
- Students learn about DNA and various lab applications by extracting DNA from bananas. Public health lab scientists use a similar lab concept to extract genetic material (DNA) for analysis so that they can detect infectious diseases in patient and environmental (e.g. food, water, and soil) samples.
- Students learn that DNA is the blueprint for life and you can extract DNA from practically
Games & Apps
- This site includes a board game that teaches students about various bacteria and viruses that cause diseases of public health importance that are tested by public health laboratory scientists.
Mapping Disease Spread
- A team from Boston Children’s Hospital uses online sources for disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance of emerging public health threats in order to facilitate early detection.
Solve the Outbreak App
- In this fun, interactive app the student becomes a Disease Detective and travels the world chasing outbreaks like the real-life outbreaks public health laboratory scientists and CDC Disease Detectives help fight.
- In this short video (14:22), Khan Academy explains influenza surveillance and how the internet can be used to track the spread of the flu.
Flu in “Shift”
- In this short video (7:42), Khan Academy explains genetic shift, the process of how new influenza viruses are formed. Public health laboratory scientists maintain influenza surveillance programs so they are able to detect and respond when a genetic shift has occurred.
Flu Attack! How a Virus Invades Your Body
- This short video (3:38) from National Public Radio describes how a sneeze droplet from a person infected with influenza can infect another person. Teachers may want to highlight the importance of sneezing into elbows or tissues and hand washing after showing this video.
Germy the Germ
- This short video provides a description of how germs are spread.
If you want to know more...
- This website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a weekly influenza surveillance report, a brief overview of flu activity in the US, and state and territorial reports of the geographic spread of influenza viruses. Public health laboratory scientists contribute to these reports by submitting important data on the flu specimens they test in their respective states.
- This presentation from the Bureau of Laboratories at the Michigan Department of Community Health describes the importance of influenza surveillance and how the testing is conducted in a public health laboratory.