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September 19, 2014

Ebola outbreak mission instructions and resources – Digital Student Guide

By Katie Gould, PBS NewsHour Teacher Resource Producer


Your Mission: to become an expert on the deadly Ebola virus and design a strategy to contain the rapidly growing outbreak in Western Africa


Background:  The current outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa has already claimed the lives of 2,000 people and leading international health organizations predict the number may reach ten times that amount before the virus has run its course. There is currently no cure or vaccine for Ebola and it is doubtful that one will be discovered during the outbreak. Local and international health workers are being pushed beyond their limits as they attempt to save as many lives as possible by identifying the sick (who are often reluctant to leave their homes), treating the infected patients with limited resources, and attempting to prevent the further spread of the virus through on-the-ground public health education campaigns.

Tasks: Review the materials listed below that have been assembled for you by a team of experts. Then use what you’ve learned to create a strategy to stop the outbreak.

1. Read about the Epidemiologic Triangle. It will help you  understand the method public health scientists use to stop an outbreak and will come in handy when you are creating your own strategy to halt the spread of Ebola.

2. Explore as many of the resources below as you can. Keep in mind that the more materials you are able to watch, read and explore, the better chance you will have at creating a successful plan. The information is organized into three categories:

  • Agent – the microbe that causes the disease
  • Host – the organism harboring the disease
  • Environment – the external factors that allow disease transmission

3. After you have finished your research, use what you have learned to complete the Ebola outbreak: strategic plan – assessment which includes an Epidemiological Triangle, a graphic organizer for key facts and prompts to help you create your evidence-based recommended strategy to contain the Ebola outbreak. Good luck!  


The Epidemiological Triangle the strategic model designed to contain outbreaks 


Center for Disease Control (CDC) | The Epidemiologic Triangle | Informational text

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The CDC is the nation’s premier public health organization and are world-renowned for their work in the field of epidemiology. Start your research by reading this informational text to learn about the method the CDC developed to fight viruses, the worlds tiniest killers, and other disease-causing microbes. For more information from the CDC about Ebola visit their website.


Agent the microbe that causes the disease 


1. NPR | Flu attack! How a virus invades your body | Video clip


Learn virus basics from National Public Radio (NPR) with this animated video. Come along for the journey of an invading virus from transmission to infection.

2. Sci-Show | What you need to know about Ebola | Video clip

Watch this engaging and informative four minute video clip from Sci-Show that covers key topics such as the history of Ebola, how it is transmitted, possible cures and more.

3. PBS NewsHour | This is how you get Ebola | Article 

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This article by Ruth Tam takes you on a detailed tour of the Ebola virus. Click here to download a PDF version of the text.


Host the organism harboring the disease 


1. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston | Excerpt 

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Learn about the devastating symptoms humans infected with Ebola experience in this excerpt from the frightening true story The Hot Zone written by Richard Preston. For a printable version of the text please click here.

2. Frontline | Ebola Outbreak | Documentary film

Ebloa Outbreak screen shot

Ebola Outbreak is a 27-minute documentary film from Frontline that brings the viewer into the center of the health crisis burning through West Africa. The story follows the lives of the patients, doctors and volunteer workers joined together by the deadly virus Ebola in its worst recorded outbreak in history. For an interactive map on the spread of the disease click here.

3. PBS NewsHour Extra | Ebola outbreak: analyzing the data | Worksheet 

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Learn more about the patterns in the outbreak and better understand the spread of the Ebola virus in its human hosts by analyzing the latest data from the World Health Organization. Click here to access the worksheet


Environment the external factors that cause or allow disease transmission


1. National Geographic | Destination: West and Central Africa | Video clip

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Use this culturally-focused background information on Western Africa from National Geographic to learn about the role traditions play in the lives of those currently faced with the deadly Ebola outbreak. Pay special attention to importance of the funeral rites and consider how they may conflict with medical procedures now being used to halt the spread of the virus.

2. World Health Organization | Ebola situation in Liberia: non-conventional interventions needed | Informational text

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Use this situation assessment from the World Health Organization for the most up to date analysis on the crisis. For a pdf version of the text, click here

3. PBS NewsHour Extra | U.S. will ramp up efforts to fight Ebola | Video clip

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Watch this PBS NewsHour video report to hear President Obama’s plan to help fight the crisis, and a discussion from public health experts on the rapidly escalating epidemic in Western Africa.

4. PBS NewsHour | WHO: ‘Many thousands of new cases’ of Ebola expected in Liberia | Article 

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Use this PBS NewsHour article written by Larisa Epakto to help contextualize the challenges faced by the affected African country of Liberia and partner health organizations. Click here for a printable version of this informational text.


Strategic plan the way you will contain the outbreak and save thousands of lives


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Now that you’ve completed your research, it’s time to take on the Ebola outbreak and end it once and for all! Click here to access the Strategic plan, the world is counting on you. Looking for a great example of how social media can be used to share critical public health information? Check out KQED Edspace and PBS NewsHour Extra’s Do Now: How can we help fight the Ebola outbreak?


Special thanks to Meredith Keybl, MPH for her extensive guidance and support on this project.

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