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Bird flu - can science save us?

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Case study
Topic: Infectious disease

As bird flu approaches Britain, people are getting worried. Will the virus mutate to a form that can spread from person to person? Will there be a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed more than 50 million? This activity describes the origins of the 1918 pandemic and then explains the dangers – and scientific responses to – avian influenza 2005. Finally, students prepare to advise the British government how best to limit the disease's spread.

8c – microbes and disease

Published: 20th October 2005
Reviews & Comments: 6

Learning objectives

Students will learn
about an example of a pandemic, and how it spread
why a virus such as avian flu may be dangerous to humans
to extract and interpret information to write a report

Try the activity


You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

8c microbes and disease
some micro-organisms can cause disease
micro-organisms enter the body by a range of mechanisms
not all diseases caused by micro-organisms can easily be treated by drugs
scientific advances depend on creative thought and interpretation of evidence
immunisation helps to protect against some diseases
vaccines contain material which stimulates body defences.

Running the activity

Show page 1a (either projected or as an OHT) and ask students to guess what killed more than 50 million people in autumn 1918. Students may suggest the war, bombing, earthquakes, a tsunami or starvation. Then display page 1b, which gives the answer and describes how the 1918 flu became a pandemic.

Then give small groups copies of page 2. This gives information about why the 2005 avian flu is dangerous, and suggests contributions science may make to alleviate the danger. Some of the information is deliberately incomplete so as to provoke discussion – for example, why are free-flying birds a potential danger? Why is there a danger if birds are confined in large groups? It is worth emphasising that whilst science can certainly alleviate the danger, it cannot remove risk altogether. For example, the raw material for the vaccine (from the star anise plant found only in China) is in short supply; anti-viral drugs are not 100% effective; many countries in the world do not have the financial resources to obtain enough vaccines and to kill and dispose of infected birds safely.

Then give small groups or individuals copies of page 3. Students take on the role of medical and scientific advisers to the British government, suggesting how to control the spread of avian flu following confirmation that turkeys on a British farm have been confirmed as carrying the H5N1 virus.

News links

BBC news
BBC story about the 1918 pandemic. '1918 killer flu secrets revealed.'
BBC news
BBC story '1918 killer flu 'came from birds.'
School Net
Very accessible account of 'The Great Influenza' including information of 'anti-flu' precautions given at the time and first-hand accounts of living through times like this.
BBC news
BBC news story- 'Bird flu pandemic is stoppable.'

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Bird flu Feb 3rd 2006

Feb 3rd, 2006

4 Star

Year 9 students found the data hard to cope with....so many people died but not in the First World War but from flu!!! It really did make them think and analyse the impact disease has on the world.
Tonight having listen to "Any Questions" on Radio 4 it was interesting to hear them talk about these statitics and the difficulties in knowing exactly what will happen. maybe in 5 years...or 10...or 20. This was how my year 9 students felt. Is it really a threat? Should we be really concerned?
As always yet another very useful and thought provoking resource to use with my students.
Thank you

Reviewer: Jo Clark

Bird flu

Jan 25th, 2006

2 Star

My very low ability Yr 8 group found this interesting, because it is very topical, but very difficult. They were unable to come up with much advice other than the very extreme - slaughter all birds (including wild ones!) and ban all travel. They might have coped better if they were able to choose from a range of suggested measures.

Reviewer: Claire Seaborne

Bird Flu

Nov 21st, 2005

4 Star

Good activity. This made students of all abilities think. Very useful to have resources which are based on current issues as we could look at recent T.V programs as well. Thanks.

Reviewer: Janet Gatehouse

BIRD FLU

Nov 18th, 2005

4 Star

I used ths as a starter activity with my year 10 students. There is so much information about bird flu and some about polio, so I used this upd8 to set the scene and raise awareness about diseases, pandemics and responses by dofferent peoples at different times. Being close to SE Asia, we are reminded of ihe bird flu each day in our news broadcasts and the recent find of live polio in Indonesia has brought home the need to be proactive about infectious and preventable diseases. The WHO was a great source of infomation about bird flu and polio - we looked at the politics of decision making as well as the science. Students are becoming better at searching for information: thanks to the bbc especially.

These upd8s are a source of inspiration, bringing relevenace and foussed stimulus material to help teachers: thank you.

Reviewer: Mary Oliver

Excellent consolidation activity!

Nov 9th, 2005

5 Star

Fabulous....really made them think about how to contain the spread of disease. A few drastic solutions were offered....but it was fun all round!

Reviewer: Seran Bradley

Bird flu

Oct 31st, 2005

5 Star

Pupil's of all levels of ability really enjoyed this activity, and made a significant contribution. Thanks!

Reviewer: Denise Quinn