About this course

“If history is our guide, we can assume that the battle between the intellect and will of the human species and the extraordinary adaptability of microbes will be never-ending.” (1)

Despite all the remarkable technological breakthroughs that we have made over the past few decades, the threat from infectious diseases remain prevalent, with increased global mobility resulting in its significantly accelerated spread. This is all the more evident with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, which is showing no signs of slowing down.

In the age of information overload, it is crucial to have access to verified facts and figures regarding appropriate public health protocols and precautionary measure – it acts as means of reducing anxiety and fears regarding infectious diseases, and above all a crucial first line of defense against misinformation.

In this course, we will look at the fundamental scientific principles underlying epidemics and the public health actions behind their prevention and control in the 21st century, with follow-up discussions and supplementary content on how these concepts may be helpful to us in better understanding the COVID-19 outbreak.

This is the second (spread of infectious diseases) of the four courses, and will cover the following topics:

  • Basic Concepts in Infectious Disease Epidemiology
  • Epidemiologic Triangle: The Pathogen, The Host and The Environment
  • Evidence Synthesis
  • Infectious Disease Modelling

Week 1
Infectious Disease Epidemiology – Tracking Infectious Diseases + Discourse with Epidemiologists on COVID-19 Outbreak

The incubation period is frequently mentioned in the context of the 14-day quarantine protocol for the recent COVID-19 outbreak, but have you ever wondered what the incubation period really means, and how it is relevant to stopping the spread of diseases? In the first week of this course, you will be introduced to basic concepts in infectious disease epidemiology, such as the epidemic curve, incubation period and its uses, transmissibility of communicable diseases, timescale of disease transmission, severity of infectious disease, and difficulties associated with severity estimation. After class discussions held with epidemiologists and various experts of the field will also address the recent outbreak.

Week 2
Epidemiological Triangle ­- Understanding Disease Transmission and Examining the Spread of COVID-19 (Supplementary Reading)

Over the course of less than a month, the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) had spread from Wuhan China to far reaches of the world including Europe and North America; what are some human factors associated with the spread of a virus, and how are other extraneous factors implicated in outbreaks such as this? The three main pillars that make up the epidemiologic triangle (pathogen, host, and environment) will be explained as means to understanding the spread of disease. In addition, the evolution of pathogens will be examined through case studies on the Myxoma virus, the human immunodeficiency virus, and antimicrobial resistance. Finally, host factors that affect disease transmission and severity such as age and sexual mixing will be addressed. A supplementary module will include discourse on influenza immunity and transmission in time, age and space, while supplementary reading on “Real-time nowcast and forecast on the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak, domestic and international spread” will further explore concepts discussed in class.

Week 3
Infectious Disease Modeling – Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases and Forecasting of the COVID-19 Outbreak (Supplementary Reading)

Numerous recent studies have forecasted the geographical spread and peak of outbreak of COVID-19, but many may be curious to know how these estimations made, and what evidence there is to lend support to these hypotheses. In the final week, you will be introduced to the mathematical modeling of infectious disease, specifically the susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) model, and its role as a tool for evidence synthesis. You will also identify the various elements of uncertainty that may occur at all stages of the modeling process. The supplementary module of the week will address the concept of precision public health, while supplementary reading on “Nowcasting and forecasting the potential domestic and international spread of the 2019-nCoV outbreak originating in Wuhan, China: a modelling study” will examine the dynamics of infectious diseases through mathematical modelling.


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(1) Fauci AS, Touchette NA, Folkers GK. Emerging Infectious Diseases: a 10-Year Perspective from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Emerg Infect Dis 2005 Apr; 11(4):519-25.