Viral Epidemics

a Discovery Core Experience

May be taken as either BCORE 110 (Natural Sciences) or BCORE 107 (Social Sciences)

About This Course

The current COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the deadly force of a virus (SARS-CoV-2) and is causing substantial long-term social and economic disruption. Although not as fatal as Ebola, it spreads much more rapidly—in part by people with few or no symptoms of the disease. In 2019 the measles, formerly rare due to vaccination, staged a global comeback, and Ebola flared up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2015, there was a Zika epidemic in Brazil that resulted in thousands of babies with microcephaly, a congenital brain defect that can be lethal or dramatically reduce quality of life. Zika and Ebola diseases are caused by viruses that have been around for at least decades. SARS-CoV-2 was only recently identified, although related viruses have been known for many years–some cause the common cold. Why and how do viruses cause local outbreaks, epidemics or even global pandemics?

Most of the world’s pandemics are caused by viruses. How can viruses, which are not strictly speaking alive, have such great power? How do our immune systems fight them; how do vaccines help? What do we know about viruses, how they change over time, and the implications for human health? As Earth’s climate changes, how will this affect their spread? How are we responding to these viral challenges? What are the roles of governmental agencies such as the CDC and WHO, and non-governmental agencies such as the Gates Foundation? We will examine all of these questions using SARS-CoV-2, the Zika virus, and other viruses as case studies, with an emphasis on how we know.

Professor Susan McNabb (She/Her/Hers)

About Professor McNabb