DISEASE DETECTIVES — Middle School Pilot Event (Science Olympiad
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.
- Non-programmable calculators permitted during competition
- Reference materials and notes not permitted
Maximum of 2 competitors
Approximate Event Time
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
- Generate hypotheses and recognize various fundamental study designs
- Evaluate data by calculating and comparing simple rates and
- 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,”
- 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
- Recognize and understand differences between the various modes of
transmission for infectious diseases and propose basic prevention and
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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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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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 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
definitions of epidemiological terms (e.g., epidemiology, epidemic,
outbreak, incidence, rates, public health surveillance);
of disease-causing agents (e.g., bacteria, toxins, mechanical forces,
of disease spread (e.g., person-to-person, food borne, airborne,
triads of elements of analysis of epidemiological data collected to
investigate outbreaks and other problems (e.g., time/place/person, and
basis for taking action to control and prevent the spread of disease.
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:
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.
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.
relevant charts or graphs for describing the problem.
measures of disease risk (e.g., incidence rate of disease or injury).
tabular and/or analytic information.
and specify probable hypotheses to explain the cause/source/spread of
approaches to testing alternative hypotheses.
suitable recommendations and/or interventions for controlling the
problem. If recommendations already have been made, then evaluate the
advantages and disadvantages of the recommendations.
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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