Issue 6 | September 2007

HIV particles budding from a lymphocyte

Epidemics

***Articles reviewed and updated in January 2015***

One of the reasons that infections are so frightening is the speed with which they can kill. Doctors dealing with human cases of avian flu in the Far East have seen their patients worsen dramatically and die within a day. Add to that the fear of the new and unknown, and emerging infections can seem truly terrifying. This issue asks how we can stop new diseases emerging or re-emerging infections getting out of hand, and how we balance individual rights with the need to protect public health.

Browse through our articles and interviews and check out our lesson ideas to find out more. This issue was first published in 2007; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2007 issue has not been updated from its original form.

Exploring infectious disease

Fighting infections

How and why might we overcome infectious diseases?

Old and new challenges

Which organisms can cause infections?

Breaking barriers

Some pathogens stick to their favourite hosts

Humans and pathogens

The way humans live has had a huge impact on the spread of disease

A pathogen on the march

Climate change is affecting which diseases strike where

Loss of liberty

Do human rights go out of the window when a pandemic strikes?

New infections identified since 1918

A timeline of infectious diseases

Case study: Ebola

The origins of Ebola are still under discussion

Case study: Hepatitis C

A growing and under-recognised problem

Case study: Lyme disease

A little-known but common problem

Case study: SARS

A success story

Case study: XDR-TB

A disaster in the making?

Controlling disease

Understanding transmission

To halt the spread of a disease, you need to know how it is transmitted

Spread the word

In infectious disease, not everyone is equal

Under control

What can we do to prevent pandemics?

The numbers game

Maths can be a key weapon in the war against infectious disease

Antimicrobial resistance

What happens when the drugs don’t work any longer?

Evolving resistance

Evolution of pathogens can be bad news

Border order

Can nations protect themselves from emerging infections?

A matter of trust

Is it ever OK to restrict personal freedoms for the greater good?

Responding to Ebola

How can medical research keep up with disease outbreaks?

Case study: XDR-TB

A disaster in the making?

Case study: Hepatitis C

A growing and under-recognised problem

Preventing disease

Community challenge

Infections can come from many sources

Herd mentality

Childhood vaccination against infectious diseases has saved countless lives. The main beneficiary, of course, is the child who gets vaccinated

Home guard

The UK faces challenges from several emerging and re-emerging infections

Weighing up the risks

How should individuals and governments respond to the possibility of new outbreaks?

Under control

What can we do to prevent pandemics?

An international issue

New diseases may emerge in developing countries – but they won’t stay there

A global watch

Pandemic control calls for international cooperation

The numbers game

Maths can be a key weapon in the war against infectious disease

Industrial relations

Love them or loathe them, pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play in disease control

Case study: Mosquito-borne diseases

Tropical mosquitoes are travelling the world

historical aspects

Death on the doorstep

The Black Death was the most severe pandemic ever recorded

New infections identified since 1918

A timeline of infectious diseases

Culture of epidemics

New diseases have inspired numerous works of fiction

Ethical questions

Industrial relations

Love them or loathe them, pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play in disease control

Weighing up the risks

How should individuals and governments respond to the possibility of new outbreaks?

Free at any cost?

To protect public health, individuals’ freedoms may be restricted

A matter of trust

Is it ever OK to restrict personal freedoms for the greater good?

Border order

Can nations protect themselves from emerging infections?

First contact

Contacting tribes can have catastrophic consequences

Outbreak!

What would happen if a new infection emerged in the UK?

Case study: XDR-TB

A disaster in the making?

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Tran Tinh Hien

Meet a clinician who looks after avian flu patients in the southern provinces of Vietnam

Real Voices interview: Patricia Folan

Meet Patricia, a lead nurse in infection control at University College London Hospital

Real Voices interview: Alison

When Alison went to a leading London hospital for an operation, she expected to be home in three weeks. But after contracting MRSA, it was a different story

Activities and lesson ideas

Further resources and activities on epidemics

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce the following activities and resources related to epidemics

Lesson idea: ‘The Devil’s Alliance’

This issue’s activity is based around a drama, ‘The Devil’s Alliance’, which has been written by Radio 4 playwright Alastair Jessiman

Outbreak!

What would happen if a new infection emerged in the UK?

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic