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Science Olympiad » Disease Detectives Event
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Middle School
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Middle School

DISEASE DETECTIVES — Middle School Pilot Event (Science Olympiad Division B)

Description

Students will be asked to determine probable causes of various public health problems and to propose possible strategies to control or prevent those problems. This event combines a basic understanding of biologic and physical agents that cause disease with an ability to analyze, interpret, evaluate, and draw conclusions using simple data.

Event Parameters

  • Non-programmable calculators permitted during competition
  • Reference materials and notes not permitted

Team Membership

Maximum of 2 competitors

Approximate Event Time

50 minutes

The Competition

Students will be presented with one or more descriptions of public health problems (e.g., an outbreak of food poisoning, a cluster of cases of West Nile encephalitis, state data on bicycle injuries). Using these descriptions, they will be asked to perform any or all of the following tasks:

  • Generate hypotheses and recognize various fundamental study designs
  • Evaluate data by calculating and comparing simple rates and proportions
  • Identify patterns, trends, and possible modes of transmission, sources, or risk factors
  • Propose interventions based on promoting positive health behaviors, eliminating or reducing environmental sources, or breaking clearly identifiable chains of transmission

Students may also be expected to:

  • Define basic epidemiologic and public health terms (e.g., “outbreak,” “epidemic,” “pandemic,” “surveillance,” “risk,” “vector,” etc.)
  • Recognize various categories of disease-causing agents (e.g., viruses, bacteria, protistans, fungi and animals) and give examples of illnesses caused by each
  • Recognize and understand differences between the major groups of infectious agents
  • Recognize and understand differences between the various modes of transmission for infectious diseases and propose basic prevention and control strategies

Calculations and mathematical manipulations will be consistent with middle school math skills and will be part of the competition. Data may be contrived or modified to make it more appropriate for this age group as long as it does not radically alter results or interpretation.

Concepts and principles will be limited to those presented on CDC's EXCITE website and those normally covered in middle school curriculum. Problem sets, however, may be taken from any source.

This event may be set up in stations.

Scoring

  • Each question and problem has a point value. Both the nature of the questions and scoring rubric will emphasize an understanding that is broad and basic rather than detailed and advanced.
  • Depending on the problem, scoring may be based on a combination of answers, including graphs, explanations, analysis, calculations, and closed-ended responses to specific questions.
  • Points will be awarded for both quality and accuracy of answers, the quality of supporting reasoning, and the use of proper scientific methods.
  • Ties may be broken using a separate set of questions that do not enter into the regular score. If teams tied on the basis of their regular scores also have the same total score on the tie-breaker questions, individual scores on a pre-selected sequence of tie-breaker questions can be used to resolve the ties.

Sample Problems

Students read a series of reports or summaries of reports adapted from newspapers, scientific publications, or Internet sites dealing with outbreaks or other public health problems in a community or population. They then answer a series of questions related to the epidemiology of the problem and potential intervention or prevention activities.

Students will need the knowledge and skills required to accomplish any or all of the following tasks:

  • When given a line listing of symptoms, onsets, and outcomes and exposure time in a group of people associated with an outbreak, students should be able to calculate frequency distributions for symptoms and average incubation periods.
  • When given a description of a public health problem (outbreak or case-cluster), students should be able to determine the most likely category of agent involved in the problem and either determine likely agents or describe a series of steps for identifying the agent.
  • When given examples of epidemic curves, students should be able to identify those from common source outbreaks (point source, continuous common source, or intermittent), propagated outbreaks, or mixed exposure outbreaks.
  • When given examples of reservoirs, vectors, or exposure sources for particular diseases, students should be able to propose a group of reasonable prevention and control strategies.
  • When given a description of the distribution of a disease in terms of person, place, and time, students should be able to generate a hypothesis about what lifestyle or environmental factor(s) might be causing the disease.
  • When given an example of a possible relationship between a lifestyle or environmental exposure and a certain disease, students should be able to explain how to determine the relationship and to describe the relationship and how it occurs
  • When given an example of a known relationship between a lifestyle or environmental exposure and a certain disease, students should be able to describe a variety of possible prevention and control strategies and the strengths and limitations of each.
  • When given an example of a prevention and control strategy, students should be able to describe 1) the best study design for determining the effectiveness of the strategy and 2) why that study design is better than others, under the circumstances. Students should also be able to describe the evidence from which they would infer the success or failure of the strategy.

Resources

The following web sites and their links contain material that may be useful to event supervisors, coaches, and competitors:

www.cdc.gov/excite — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Science Education. Includes a primer on epidemiology, problem sets, and examples.

www.montclair.edu/detectives* — Montclair State University. Offers a curriculum for teaching epidemiology at the middle school level.

www.collegeboard.com/yes* — Young Epidemiology Scholars Program. Contains information on program competition and a number of teaching modules that can be used in training. Although targeted at a high school audience, this material may be useful for training competitors at the middle school level.

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High School

Overview

Disease Detectives requires students to apply principles of epidemiology to a published report of a real-life health situation or problem.

The event is intended for teams of up to two people. Approximate time to completion is 50 minutes.

The Competition

The competition will require students to use a systematic, scientific approach to investigating epidemics (e.g., finding and counting cases, comparative reasoning, hypothesis generation, hypothesis testing). Related task and knowledge areas of epidemiology and other biomedical sciences include

  • basic definitions of epidemiological terms (e.g., epidemiology, epidemic, outbreak, incidence, rates, public health surveillance);
  • categories of disease-causing agents (e.g., bacteria, toxins, mechanical forces, behavior);
  • modes of disease spread (e.g., person-to-person, food borne, airborne, vector borne);
  • the triads of elements of analysis of epidemiological data collected to investigate outbreaks and other problems (e.g., time/place/person, and agent/host/environment); and
  • the basis for taking action to control and prevent the spread of disease.

Event Problems

The students will read a summary report from a newspaper, scientific publication, or Internet site. Students will answer questions relating to determining the epidemiology of the problem and potential interventions or prevention activities. Following are possible tasks:

  • Given the scenario of the outbreak or condition, explain why you might consider this an important problem and give at least three general reasons why you should respond to the problem.
  • Briefly describe the initial steps of an investigation to respond to this problem. For example, develop a case definition, determine the data needed for the initial steps, and give some examples of possible sources of such data in a community.
  • Construct relevant charts or graphs for describing the problem.
  • Calculate measures of disease risk (e.g., incidence rate of disease or injury).
  • Interpret tabular and/or analytic information.
  • Develop and specify probable hypotheses to explain the cause/source/spread of the outbreak.
  • Describe approaches to testing alternative hypotheses.
  • Develop suitable recommendations and/or interventions for controlling the problem. If recommendations already have been made, then evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the recommendations.

Scoring

Depending on the problem, scoring may be based on a combination of answers, including graphs/charts, explanations, and closed-ended responses to specific questions. Points should be awarded for the quality and accuracy of answers, the quality of supporting reasoning, and the use of proper scientific methods. Each completed graph or table is worth up to five points; open-ended questions that require a paragraph of explanation to report the proper interpretation are worth up to ten points; close-ended responses are worth up to five points.

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* Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at these links.





This page last reviewed February 14, 2005

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