Influenza: History, Science, Strains, Detection, and Protection

Every middle school student has heard of the flu. They may even have had it, or more likely, they have had some other virus described as the flu. Most students would consider the flu unpleasant, but probably not potentially fatal. Now is a good time to help students learn more about influenza. But where do you start? I have put together some highly regarded resources on the web, designed to provide you with 1) solid background knowledge and 2) a variety of teaching resources.

A study of influenza aligns well with the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives,  Science as Inquiry, and Life Science standards of the National Science Education Standards as well as the notion of systems thinking. Perhaps the best pedagogical approach would be to start with personal and social perspectives. That way we start with the somewhat familiar and then bridge to the unfamiliar, more abstract notions of virus and epidemiology.

What Is the Flu?

Open this question up to the class and record all student responses on the board or, better yet, chart paper that can be saved and revisited later. The responses can serve as a pre-assessment or benchmark. Do not pass any judgment or offer any corrective feedback at this point. When students have run out of ideas, tell them it’s time to do a little research to find out whether what they know is accurate and complete.

Is It a Cold or the Flu?
Begin with this concise PDF from the National Institutes of Health. Page 2 is a Spanish translation. Most students will be able to relate to the listed symptoms. While both colds and the flu are caused by a virus, they are distinctly different. Is vomiting or nausea on the list? Are antibiotics listed as a treatment? Do students want to revise their chart paper list?

History and Society: What Is a Pandemic?

Below are three articles, all published up to four years before the recent swine flu outbreak, that will familiarize you with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. You may choose to use one of these, in perhaps a modified form, to help students get a concept of pandemic, its impact on society, and what was learned from it.

1918 Influenza: The Mother of All Pandemics

Spanish Flu of 1918: Could It Happen Again?

The 1918 Flu Killed Millions. Does It Hold Clues for Today?

The Science of Influenza

These resources will familiarize you with the more technical aspects of a virus, how the body responds, and how antiviral drugs work. You will recognize the puzzle-solving aspect of science. Observations inspire hypotheses, which are tested and tweaked as more observations are gathered.

Epidemic!
This simple simulation illustrates how quickly a virus spreads and how scientists use observations to track its origin.

The Big Picture Book of Viruses
This site contains more information than almost anyone would want. However, scroll down to see several electron micrographs of various influenza strains.

Image of bacteria cell covered in viruses
Although this is not an image of a flu virus attacking a human cell, it does give the viewer the sense of scale — that viruses are much smaller than bacteria. Be mindful that bacteria are, in turn, much smaller than our body cells.

Antibodies Neutralize Multiple Flu Strains
This March 2009 page from the National Institutes of Health reports:

Two separate scientific teams have discovered antibodies that attach to a vulnerable region in a broad range of influenza A viruses, including the H5N1 avian virus, the 1918 pandemic influenza virus, and seasonal H1N1 flu viruses. The finding could potentially help scientists develop tools to prevent or treat the flu during an outbreak or pandemic.

Antiviral Drugs and H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
We know that antibiotics don’t work against viruses, and up until recently we were told there was nothing we could do about viral infections but wait them out. In April of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the benefits of some antiviral drugs: “There are four influenza antiviral drugs approved for use in the United States (oseltamivir, zanamivir, amantadine and rimantadine). The swine influenza A (H1N1) viruses that have been detected in humans in the United States and Mexico are resistant to amantadine and rimantadine . . .”

What Is the Swine Flu?

These resources focus on the current H1N1 strain.

Q&A: Why Is Swine Flu Such a Big Deal?
This article points out that this particular strain is killing young, otherwise healthy people. Contrast that with the fact that older people and very young children are more often victims of the flu, most dying of pneumonia. That is cause for concern.

H1N1 (Swine Flu)
The official page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with updated confirmed cases and their locations. A discussion with students of the science of epidemiology would be appropriate here.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published May 4, 2009 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/9/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

How Many Bacteria Species Can Coexist on a Single Hand? (And do girls really have cooties?)

Sounds like a riddle, but it’s not trivial. We’ll get back to that in a minute. First consider the scenario: The class arrives from physical education. Today’s activity was mat ball, a variation of dodge ball involving lots of kids and lots of contact with balls and mats. They’re pumped, a little sweaty and out of breath, and one or two are a few seconds late—probably not because they were washing their hands! Would you have students wash their hands in this scenario? Not likely. It’s just not part of the lesson plan.

We accept a certain lack of sanitation mostly because it’s not feasible to allow 26-30 kids to wash their hands several times a day. We try to take solace in the hand sanitizers, though rumor has it there’s no substitute for warm water, soap and a minute of scrubbing.

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped. Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. Wikimedia Commons.

So what’s the big deal? Most bacteria on our skin are harmless or beneficial, right? How many could there be anyway? Well, CBCnews.ca recently published a story, Women lead men in bacteria types, hands down  that might surprise you. Researchers were surprised to find the incredible number of different bacteria species found among 51 college students’ hands and the very low number of species shared by all students. Further, there was a difference between left and right hands. And finally, there was a significant difference between men and women.

According to the news article,

They [researchers] identified 4,742 species of bacteria overall, only five of which were on every hand . . . The average hand harboured 150 species of bacteria. Not only did individuals have few types of bacteria in common, the left and right hands of the same individual shared only about 17 per cent of the same bacteria types . . .

Researchers suspect differences between left-and right-hand bacteria diversity have to do with each hand’s interactions with environment that can alter the hand’s conditions in terms of oil or salinity, for example. Differences between men and women might have to do with hormone production or slight variations in pH. Researchers commented that, for the subjects involved in this study, hand washing did not appear to remove the bacteria. It is important to note the study did not measure mass of bacteria present or population sizes for each species, only the diversity of species present.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

The National Science Education Standards Content Standard F states:

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Personal health
  • Populations, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards
  • Risks and benefits
  • Science and technology in society

The ideas in this news article connect to the bullets above. The following discussion highlights the ideas in the list.

Ask students if they’ve ever had a bacterial infection. What caused it? What are bacteria? Many will state they are harmful, disease causing germs. How common do they believe bacteria are? Are they in contact with any right now? How do they protect themselves against bacterial disease? Lead students to understand that many kinds of bacteria are harmless and, in fact, beneficial. Our digestion is aided by bacteria, for example. Bacteria are used in the production of yogurt and cottage cheese, among other foods. You can show them photomicrographs indicating bacteria are distinct cells, but quite small. Bacteria impact our personal health in both positive and negative ways.

How are bacteria connected to populations, resources and environments? Remind students that a group of the same kind of bacteria living in the same area is a population. Can a human hand be an adequate environment with resources to support a bacteria population? How many kinds of bacteria do you think might be able to coexist on a single human hand? Entertain all students’ guesses. Share only the numbers from the story with them. How do their guesses compare with the numbers reported?

Try some true or false questions:

1. There is no difference in the kinds of bacteria found on the same person’s right and left hand.

2. Men and women have the same kinds of bacteria on their hands.

3. Among a group of people, there is a high number of different kinds of bacteria that all people share.

Share the rest of the findings reported in the article. Ask students to generate inferences to account for the variation reported. What questions can they generate related to the findings? What kind of tests do they think would be good to conduct next and why?

You can connect the idea of natural hazards to changes in bacteria populations if you care to. After a flood for example, the biggest threat is disease due to polluted water, from overflow of sewage mixing with drinking-water supplies. At times like these, the bacteria populations found on flood-ravaged persons’ hands can be expected to differ from those found under normal conditions.

What are the risks and benefits involved in controlling bacteria through various methods: sanitation, sterilization, irradiation, and antibiotics, for example? What are the risks and benefits of using helpful bacteria to control or minimize the occurrence of harmful bacteria in food?

What role does technology play in public health policies regarding available vaccinations, medicines, and public education campaigns? See the Centers for Disease Control webpage for additional ideas and information at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/guidelines/guidelines_topic_bacterial.htm

To find lessons and activities that would support this topic of study, please search the MSP2 Educational Digital Library – http://www.msteacher2.org/page/search-the-msp2-collection-of?q=bacteria&action=Search. Terms such as germs or bacteria will get you started.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published November 10, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 2/29/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

What’s the Difference Between Viruses and Bacteria?

Many people think that germs are what make us sick but scientifically speaking, germs are microbes that can be both harmful or helpful and come in four varieties – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. We’ll leave the discussion of fungi and protozoa for another post and focus on bacteria and viruses in this one. Microbeworld says that viruses are as different from bacteria as goldfish are from giraffes. That is REALLY different! So what are the differences between the two microorganisms? With people still concerned with the H1N1 virus – knowing the differences and similarities might be really helpful!

What’s a Germ?
This page from Science NetLinks provides images of the four types of microbes and a general description of the differences between them.

Virus or Bacterium?
This site gets into more detail in regards to cell structure and reproductive differences.

What’s the Life Span of a Virus?
This podcast and background information tells the differences between the cold virus and flu virus – both life span and how they are transmitted.

Bacteria: More Than Pathogens
This article, written by molecular biologist Trudy Wassenaar, helps clear up the misconceptions associated with bacteria.

Structure Of ‘Beneficial’ Virus That Can Infect Cancer Cells Solved
There are lots of bacteria that are beneficial – not so much for viruses. Here is a Science Daily article that describes a virus that “attacks” cancer cells.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Swimming Pool Chemistry

Summer’s here and that means it’s time to head for that clear, cool, and refreshing pool! Did you know that children swallow at least 37 mL of pool water each day they swim for 45 minutes or more? Do you know how many microbes can fit into just 1 mL of water? A lot!

Here are a few resources to acquaint your students with some of the microbes we aim to kill with chlorine as well as the properties of chlorine. Several factors, such as pH and temperature, affect its activity. Due to its noxious quality, hands-on activities with chlorine are not possible. However, you and your students might want to model and simulate the chemical activity of chlorine. Or, you and your students could create case studies in small groups to trade and analyze using their new knowledge.

CDC: Healthy Swimming
The What? Where? Why? How? and Who? of recreational water illnesses (RWI).

Internet Scout Report for Physical Science: Chlorine
A list of several related web sites. We suggest Chlorine Chemistry, which presents 10 chlorine chemistry questions. Answers do not appear on the same screen, giving students a chance to think about them. The Question of the Day links to How Does Chlorine Bleach Work?. Scroll down and click on How Does Chorine Work to Clean Swimming Pools?

Chlorine
This engagingly written, one-page article provides a brief history of humans’ use of chlorine and highlights some common, useful compounds of chlorine, expanding student conceptions beyond pool water disinfectants. This article is from Chemical & Engineering News accessed through the American Chemical Society.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/09/2012.