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VOLUME 16 TEACHING ISSUES AND EXPERIMENTS IN ECOLOGY
PRACTICE

Evaluating environmental drivers of disease outbreaks from seasonal trends

Disease outbreaks, such as those caused by Escherichia coli, can show seasonal trends. By DataBase Center for Life Science (DBCLS) and authorized for publication under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75011250).

AUTHORS

Justin T. Nguyen, David J. Civitello, and Karena H. Nguyen

Department of Biology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322

Corresponding author: Karena H. Nguyen, karena.ha.nguyen@emory.edu


THE ECOLOGICAL QUESTION

What are the seasonal patterns and potential environmental drivers of common bacterial and parasitic diseases in the United States?

ECOLOGICAL CONTENT

Ecophysiology, disease ecology, parasitology, seasonality, long-term observations

WHAT STUDENTS DO

Students receive a data set from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Outbreak Reporting System (CDC NORS) containing the number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths associated with outbreaks of a pathogen (i.e., Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Escherichia, Giardia, or Legionella). Data sets contain monthly records aggregated at the state level, along with transmission route and etiology. Students use Google Sheets to visualize seasonal trends in the data and develop hypotheses about potential ecological or environmental drivers of these patterns. Next, students conduct a literature search to find studies that evaluate a causal link between the hypothesized driver(s) and outbreak frequency or severity. Students share these findings in and across groups using a jigsaw structure.

SKILLS

First, students build skills required to visualize, interpret, and communicate field patterns by using raw data to create, label, and present bar graphs and interpret the data associated with those visualizations. Next, students develop critical thinking skills by developing ecological hypotheses to explain these field patterns. Students then develop research and written science communication skills by conducting their own literature search to find and summarize studies assessing their hypotheses. Lastly, students develop oral science communication skills by informally sharing their findings within and among groups.

STUDENT-ACTIVE APPROACHES

Guided Inquiry, Cooperative Learning, Jigsaw, Quantitative Learning

ASSESSABLE OUTCOMES

  • Creating and interpreting figures that display seasonal patterns and measures of virulence for a pathogen with correctly labeled axes using data sets from the CDC NORS
  • Generating appropriate hypotheses based on reasonable interpretations of the self-generated figures
  • Summarizing primary literature sources that assess the hypotheses in an annotated bibliography
  • Informally presenting findings to classmates in groups to demonstrate oral scientific communication skills
  • Predicting how environmental drivers of disease may impact bacteria and parasites in the future via a concept map

SOURCES

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Outbreak Reporting System (CDC NORS): https://wwwn.cdc.gov/norsdashboard/

DOWNLOADS

Description of Resource Files:

For faculty:

For students:

These data are publicly available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Outbreak Reporting System Dashboard. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC. Last accessed <26Feb2020>. Available from URL: wwwn.cdc.gov/norsdashboard. The CDC gives permission for this data set to be posted and distributed on the TIEE website.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We would like to thank the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention for the data sets used in this module and the various students in BIOL 347 - Disease Ecology at Emory University who provided feedback to improve the activities.

CITATION

Justin T. Nguyen, David J. Civitello, and Karena H. Nguyen. August 2020, posting date. Evaluating environmental drivers of disease outbreaks from seasonal trends. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 16: Practice #1 [online]. http://tiee.esa.org/vol/v16/issues/data_sets/nguyen/abstract.html