Influence of Global Environmental Change on Emerging Infectious Diseases

This course is designed to introduce students to concepts related to the impact of global environmental change on emerging infectious disease spread, to familiarize students with tools for mapping data and monitoring current science news about environmentally-related infectious diseases, and to provide students an opportunity to apply this knowledge and these tools to scientific investigation, scientific communication, and their life as an informed scientist and citizen.

The course is divided into roughly three sections.  We begin the semester with an introduction to basic concepts related to emerging infectious disease transmission in the context of the ecology of a disease.  We explore different types of environmental change drivers (e.g. urbanization, travel, trade, agriculture, and climate change) and discuss how these are impacting infectious disease dynamics using specific case studies.  We also discuss cascading impacts of environmental change through an examination of the impact of biodiversity and landscape composition and configuration on disease spillover and transmission.  Students learn about the policy context of emerging infectious disease control and discuss how local, regional, and international organizations do (or do not!) collaborate to protect human and animal health.

Next we move on to topics related to the surveillance, response, and communication of information about emerging infectious diseases.  We engage guest speakers from local health departments and media outlets to learn about their perspective on communicating health risks as well as some of the challenges they face.  Students have the opportunity to practice science communication in an interview by journalism students.

The remainder of the course is spent exploring methods and approaches for investigating environmentally-related emerging diseases.  We discuss and critique primary literature regarding landscape epidemiology, spatial analysis / GIS / remote sensing, and dynamic modeling.  We experiment with open-source GIS software.  We practice searching for and utilizing secondary health and environmental data sources to answer scientific questions.  We end the course with an applied research proposal that requires students to develop specific objectives / aims, budget, timeline, and maps to support their field protocol or help answer their research question.

Throughout the course, students are regularly engaged with scientific current events and learn about and utilize different modes of science communication through a combination of individual and group assignments.  You can see examples of the weekly twitter posts at #EnvIDF14.