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Classroom Discussion Activity

Influenza: Jumping the Species Barrier

Outbreaks of the avian flu are killing both domestic poultry and wild birds across Asia and Europe. While the virus kills about half of the humans who contract it, a worldwide outbreak or pandemic has yet to occur, because the virus can’t effectively transmit from person to person. Watch “Avian Flu: Preparing for the Next Pandemic” and learn how scientists are looking at ways the virus is transmitted and ways to develop an efficient, effective vaccine for millions of people worldwide. This feature can be used to illustrate the defining a question stage of the Scientific Method.


Establish Prior Knowledge
Ask students what they know about influenza and how it is spread? Ask them to explain what a vaccine is and how it’s made. They should understand that a vaccine is a substance that contains antigenic components from an infectious organism, which is used to produce active immunity against that organism. Explain that in the video they are about to see, a scientists investigate the avian flu in the hopes of one day developing an effective vaccine.

Have students watch the video and read the synopsis. Use the following questions to guide a class discussion.
• How is the avian flu being spread today?
(Answer: The avian flu is spread between birds and humans. Birds from Asia carry the flu and when they migrate they mingle with birds from other areas, which then become infected. When people come into contact with infected birds they contract the flu.)
• What has prevented the avian flu from becoming a pandemic so far?
(Answer: The virus doesn’t transmit efficiently from person to person.)
• What question does scientist Jeffrey Taubenberger hope to answer through his research at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases?
(Answer: He hopes to discover how viruses move between species and how they can cause disease.)
• Why are scientists investigating the flu of 1918 and what have they concluded?
(Answer: They are investigating the influenza epidemic of 1918 because of its relevance to the process of the flu jumping from one species to another. By sequencing the 1918 flu genome scientists have concluded that it was an avian virus that adapted to humans.)
• What problems do scientists face in producing a vaccine to prepare for a human pandemic?
(Answers may include: In the past scientists grew the full virus and then inactivated it. When administered, the vaccine promoted flu-fighting antibodies in a person’s body. But the virus was grown in eggs and making vaccine for 50 million people would require 50 million eggs, which is both time-consuming and impractical.)
• How are scientists addressing this problem?
(Answer: They are looking at one of the virus’s proteins hemogglutinin, which can be used as a vaccine and can be produced more quickly and efficiently.)

Use the following question to wrap up your discussion:
• Do you think that scientists will eventually develop an effective vaccine for the avian flu? Why or why not?
(Answers will vary.)

Use the following question to wrap up your discussion:

Questions and Answers About Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) and Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus
Introduce your students to basic answers about avian influenza with this site from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.

H5N1 Avian Influenza: Timeline of Major Events
Track the history of avian influenza in both animals and humans, with this timeline from World Health Organization.

Avian Influenza or Bird Flu
This interactive slide show and quiz from the National Library of Medicine is an engaging way to illustrate the behavior of viruses, and the spread of avian flu among birds and humans.