The A to Z of Zika

HEALTH The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued multiple travel alerts about traveling to countries that may have outbreaks of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Why? (New York Times) Use our resources to better understand the most effective prevention for Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases. Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit. Discussion Ideas What is Zika? Zika … Continue reading The A to Z of Zika

The Tiny Truth About Germs

The cover photo for this post is a microscopic image of fungi, courtesy Fernando Santos and FEI. With stories about Ebola consuming our newsfeeds these days, it’s probably been hard to avoid discussing the outbreak with your students. But as new cases are discovered and treated, is there anything else to talk about? What questions are emerging from your classroom? One way to continue the … Continue reading The Tiny Truth About Germs

All About Ebola

HEALTH The 2014 crisis is the largest Ebola outbreak in history and the first in West Africa. Learn more about the deadly disease and responses to the crisis. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Use our resources to learn more about the last major outbreak of Ebola. Discussion Ideas What is ebola? Ebola is an infectious disease caused by a virus. In fact, most doctors … Continue reading All About Ebola

Jessica Brehmer: Contaminated Water Leads to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

Jessica is currently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and is employed by the Minnesota Department of Health.  She has a BA in Geography from the University of Minnesota and is a former geography intern with NGS.

For the past month a cholera epidemic has torn through Haiti – a country still trying to get back on its feet after a devastating earthquake earlier this year. Over 500 people have died and thousands more have fell ill to the disease. Cholera is caused by bacteria and is passed by consuming contaminated water or food.  Cholera can cause severe diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked the strain of cholera currently affecting Haiti to a strain commonly seen in south Asia. Their scientists matched the patterns of DNA in cholera in Haiti to cholera typically seen in southern Asia. Wait, what?!  Yes, you read that right. Somehow this strain of cholera traveled thousands of miles from Asia to Haiti. So how did bacteria found in Asia end up in Haiti?  Although we may never know with certainty, we can make some good guesses.

In the wake of the earthquake people from around the world came to Haiti bringing food, medical supplies and hopes of rebuilding Haiti. It is probable that cholera traveled with these humanitarian efforts to Haiti. Right now most of the conjecture points to United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal as the source of the epidemic. A possible scenario is that one of the peacekeepers had the cholera bacteria in their stool and unknowingly contaminated a water source.

Continue reading “Jessica Brehmer: Contaminated Water Leads to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti”

Demystifying the Swine Flu Pandemic…with Geography!

GeoNews_SwineFlu_Resize.jpgCitizens around the world are concerned about the swine flu (H1N1) virus, which has been most insidious in Mexico but is also affecting travelers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and a growing number of nations. As of May 11, 3 U.S. deaths and upwards of 4,700 cases had been confirmed, with hundreds more suspected; as shown on Google

and Rhiza Lab’s Swine Flu incidence map.

Amid all the hype, assessing the real risks posed by the global spread of the disease can be daunting. Terms like “outbreak,” “epidemic,” and “pandemic” are often used liberally and interchangeably, infecting listeners with fear and confusion. Luckily, My Wonderful World is here to the rescue! The distinctions among these terms, and their implications, are–you guessed it–geographic.

Here’s a quick primer: An outbreak occurs when the reported cases of a disease are greater than the levels predicted for a given area or period of time. That means that if one person is predicted to get the flu in your town, and two become ill, it’s an outbreak! Outbreaks are usually, but not always, limited in geographic scale. The current swine influenza was considered to have reached outbreak status in April as a result of growing numbers of cases in Mexico.

Technically, the term epidemic can be used synonymously with outbreak, but it typically refers to a larger-scale incident affecting greater numbers of people in a more expansive geographic area. Confirmed reports of swine flu in the United States and Canada signaled an epidemic. 

A pandemic is an epidemic that has reached global proportions. The World Health Organization recognizes six stages or “phases” in the development of pandemic flu (these stages largely replace use of the terms outbreak and epidemic). The phases are categorized according to several factors including (1) virus presence in animals and/or humans, (2) rate of transmission, (3) geographic extent of the disease and (4) response recommendations.

Continue reading “Demystifying the Swine Flu Pandemic…with Geography!”