Examining Global Pandemics: Division of Infectious Diseases, Stanford University School of Medicine and SPICE

Epidemic infectious diseases have shaped many aspects of ancient and modern history. In an interdependent world, well-known pathogens and new, emerging infectious diseases continue to pose a global threat. At the same time, the biomedical and social sciences have been making incredible progress in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of communicable diseases.

Recent events highlight the importance of emerging infectious agents, including HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, the introduction of West-Nile Virus in the western hemisphere in the late 1990s, and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, and draw attention to the role of increased travel and global connections in facilitating the rapid spread of infectious diseases.

HIV/AIDS is now the world’s greatest pandemic. It has claimed more lives than the Black Plague of the 14th century. With an estimated 16,000 new infections daily, more than 40 million people worldwide are infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). More than seven out of 10 of the world’s HIV-infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of HIV/AIDS on local economies, its potential to contribute to regional instability due to loss of human life, and the moral imperative to address the pandemic has brought prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS to the forefront. Increasingly, it is clear that a multidisciplinary team approach including social scientists, behavioral specialists, clinicians, researchers, and policymakers is essential to address this global pandemic.

Advances in epidemiology, molecular diagnostics, bio-informatics, and genomics have enriched our understanding of ancient and emerging pathogens and offer new avenues for addressing infectious diseases. Vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and new paradigms of public health have increased our ability to control and even eradicate infectious agents. The control of many formerly common childhood diseases has been effectively achieved through the development of vaccines. Smallpox and measles provide examples of diseases that have been eradicated by the culmination of modern innovative public health approaches and widespread vaccination. In the news today, the potential for a viral antigenic shift resulting in a more transmissible form of the deadly H5N1 influenza virus has led to extensive media coverage and disaster planning at local, state, and federal levels of government, as well as international public health bodies.

Teachers and students need a strong foundation in the biologic and social sciences to place these events and responses in context and to allow transfer of vital information and understanding to the community at large. There have been few initiatives to provide high school teachers with accurate, up-to-date knowledge on infectious diseases. U.S. high school students continue to be exposed to global infectious diseases through sensationalized media coverage including popular films and television.

We have been developing a high school curriculum unit with Stanford students Robin Lee, Michelle Silver, Piya Sorcar, and Jessica Zhang and Gary Mukai of SPICE to allow teachers and students to place news concerning infectious diseases in perspective; appreciate diverse social and economic responses to infectious diseases; and understand infectious diseases in the context of a global, interdependent world. The curriculum will also encourage students to consider issues related to epidemic and pandemic infectious diseases and their own personal risk.

The proposed five-module unit is as follows, with the first module having been completed this summer:

I: Introduction to Virology and Infectious Diseases

II: The Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the World

III: Science, Economics, and Business in Infectious Diseases

IV: Local and International Politics and Policy in Infectious Diseases

V: Community and Personal Health