Course SyllabusOutbreak Investigation

Outbreak Investigation Home Page


This course on Outbreak Investigation provides an introduction to the basic principles and steps involved in investigating and managing infectious disease outbreaks. All components of this training are free, including registration, learning, testing, and a certificate of completion. This course is intended for undergraduate and graduate-level students of medicine, environmental sciences or public health. 

The Outbreak Investigation course was developed in partnership with Peoples-Uni. This course is co-sponsored by University of the Incarnate Word. Like all NextGenU courses, it is competency-based, using competencies from the ASPHER’s European List of Core Competencies for the Public Health Professional and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Core Competencies for EU Member States. This course uses learning resources from world-class academic and governmental organizations such as National Center for Biotechnology Information, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and Cambridge University Press. The course developers are Professor Dick Heller, MB BS MD FRCP FFPH FRACP FAFPHM; Hugo Andres Rojas Aldieri MD, MSc; and Valeria Reynolds, MD.

 

A special thanks to the Skills Online Programme of the Public Health Agency of Canada where this course first appeared, and was then used by Peoples-Uni. In 2020, the course was donated to NextGenU.org and underwent revision and restructuring with new modules, learning resources, and assessments. 

For a publication on this course’s efficacy, see “A Novel Integration of Online and Flipped Classroom Instructional Models in Public Health Higher Education,” (2014), BMC Medical Education, https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-14-181; see also “Building Public Health Capacity through Online Global Learning,” (2018), Open Praxis, https://openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/746/427; to see more research related to NextGenU.org’s educational model, have a look at NextGenU.org’s publication page.

There are 4 modules to complete, which provide: 

  • A basic introduction to the goal, objectives and steps of an outbreak investigation; 
  • An overview on descriptive and analytical epidemiology; 
  • Skills to conduct an Outbreak Investigation.


The completion time for this course is estimated at 16 hours: 4 hours of didactics and curated resources and 12 hours of work studying the resources and participating in activities to assist the student in synthesizing the materials.

You’ll need to connect with a mentor with professional health care training who has both a Master of Public Health (MPH), and epidemiological experience (or their equivalent) to guide your addressing mentor-requiring competencies if you decide to engage with this course’s mentored activity. The mentored activity is required for those aiming to fulfill the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Core Competencies for EU Member States oriented for public health epidemiologists, public health microbiologists, and NFP for preparedness. We hope this is a wonderful learning experience for you, and the feedback you provide after completing the course will help us improve the course for future students. 

The course requires completion of all case studies and peer activities. At the end of each lesson, there is a practice quiz. At the end of the course, after you’ve completed each lesson, quiz, and activity, you’ll have access to a final exam, and a chance to evaluate this course. Once you’ve passed that last test, you will be able to download a certificate of completion from NextGenU.org and our course’s co-sponsoring organizations (listed above). We keep all of your personal information confidential, never sell any of your information, and only use anonymized data for research purposes, and we are also happy to report your testing information and share your work with anyone (your school, employer, etc.) at your request. 

Engaging with this Course:

You may browse this course for free to learn for your personal enrichment; there are no requirements. To register in this course, it is required that learners have obtained a college-level/bachelor's degree.  

To obtain a certificate a learner must successfully complete

  • all the reading requirements,
  • all quizzes and pass with a 70% with unlimited attempts,
  • all case studies,
  • the peer activity,
  • the final exam with a minimum of 70% and a maximum of 3 attempts, and
  • the self and course evaluation forms.


To obtain credit 

  • complete all requirements listed above for the certificate, and
  • your learning institution or workplace should approve the partner-university-sponsored NextGenU.org course for educational credit, as they would for their learner taking a course anywhere.  

NextGenU.org is happy to provide your institution with

  • a link to and description of the course training, so they can see all its components, including the cosponsoring universities and other professional organization cosponsors; 
  • your grade on the final exam;
  • your work products (e.g. case study activities), and any other required or optional shared materials that you produce and authorize to share with them;  
  • your evaluations -- course, and self assessments;
  • a copy of your certificate of completion, with the co-sponsoring universities and other organizations listed.

To obtain a degree, NextGenU.org co-sponsors degree programs with institutional partners. To obtain a full degree co-sponsored with NextGenU.org, registrants must be enrolled in a degree program as a student of a NextGenU.org institutional partner. If you think that your institution might be interested in offering a degree with NextGenU.org contact us.

We hope that you will find this a rewarding learning experience, and we count on your assessment and feedback to help us improve this training for future students.

Here are the next steps to take the course for credit.

  • Complete the registration form.
  • Take the pre-test.
  • Begin the course with Module 1: Introduction to Outbreak Investigation. In each lesson, read the description, complete all required readings and any required activity, and take the corresponding quizzes.

This course was first developed by Skills Online from the PHAC, then adapted by Peoples-uni, then revised by NextGenU.

Module 1: Introduction to Outbreak Investigation

Competencies covered in this module

  • The public health professional shall know and understand basic demographic and epidemiological aspects.
  • Understand international disease reporting requirements.
  • The public health professional shall know and understand the contested nature of definitions, models and concepts of health and disease.
  • Be familiar with the steps of an outbreak investigation.


Click here for a brief module introduction

Module 1: Lesson 1: Introduction

Learning objectives:
  • Remember basic demographic and epidemiological aspects.
  • Explain the International Disease Reporting requirements.
  • Discuss the contested nature of models and concepts of health and disease 
  • Discuss the steps of an outbreak investigation.

Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 1 hour and 53 minutes

Click here to start this lesson


Required readingsOptional readingsPeer Activities
    QuizzesAssignments
      DiscussionsQuestionnare

        Module 2: First Stages (Steps 1 to 4)

        Competencies covered in this module

        • Be familiar with the steps of an outbreak investigation
        • Collaborate with local health officials, healthcare providers, and others to conduct outbreak investigations and epidemiologic studies.
        • Before the response operation, identify which triggers will require key decisions during outbreak response.
        • Identify as rapidly as possible the (possibly novel) agents responsible for a disease outbreak and their epidemiological characteristics.
        • Conduct outbreak investigations to identify pathogens and other agents, characterize affected population groups, and sources of exposure.
        • Describe an outbreak in terms of person, place and time in order to generate hypothesis about its cause or risk factors.
        • Document pathogen and likely sources and transmission pathways so as to inform evidence-based measures to control the outbreak.


        Module 2: Lesson 1: Prepare for Field Work - Step 1

        Learning objectives:
        • Identify the local officials, healthcare providers and other personnel who would assist in an outbreak investigation.
        • Describe the roles of the various local officials, healthcare providers and other personnel who would assist in an outbreak investigation.
        • Communicate the connection between roles of various local officials, healthcare providers, the investigators and other personnel contribute to the outbreak investigation.
        • Discuss the limitations that legal and policy frameworks may create during an outbreak response.
        • Identify the need for PPE and other safety procedures/equipment during an outbreak response.
        • Communicate how an outbreak response relates to mobility restriction politics.


        Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 56 minutes

        Click here to start this lesson

        Required readingsOptional readings
          Peer Activities
            QuizzesAssignments
              DiscussionsQuestionnare

                Module 2: Lesson 2: Establish the Existence of an Outbreak - Step 2

                Learning objectives:
                • Describe the importance of epidemiological characteristics in the identification of an outbreak.
                • Summarize sources of exposure.

                Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 43 minutes

                Click here to start this lesson

                Required readingsOptional readings
                  Peer Activities
                    QuizzesAssignments
                      Discussions
                        Questionnare

                          Module 2: Lesson 3: Verify the Diagnosis - Step 3

                          Learning objectives:
                          • Discuss main epidemiological characteristics of existing microorganisms with pandemic potential.
                          • Show learner how to use evidence-based measures to identify likely pathogens and transmission pathways.


                          Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 13 minutes

                          Click here to start this lesson


                          Required readings
                            Optional readings
                              Peer Activities
                                QuizzesAssignments
                                  Discussions
                                    Questionnare

                                      Module 2: Lesson 4: Construct a Working Case Definition - Step 4

                                      Learning objectives:

                                      • Demonstrate how an outbreak is described in terms of person, place and time.
                                      • Describe how the people affected in an outbreak and the time and place of an outbreak relate to the causes of and risk factors for an outbreak.


                                      Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 15 minutes

                                      Click here to start this lesson


                                      Required readings
                                        Optional readings
                                          Peer Activities
                                            QuizzesAssignments
                                              Discussions
                                                Questionnare

                                                  Module 3: Descriptive and Analytic Epidemiology (Steps 5 to 9)

                                                  Competencies covered in this module


                                                  • Be familiar with the steps of an outbreak investigation.
                                                  • Describe an outbreak in terms of person, place and time in order to generate hypothesis about its cause or risk factors.
                                                  • Conduct case - control studies and other epidemiologic studies to test hypotheses regarding sources of exposure.
                                                  • Conduct outbreak investigations to identify pathogens and other agents, characterise affected population groups, and sources of exposure.
                                                  • Perform descriptive analysis of public health surveillance data
                                                  • Generate hypothesis about the cause and/or risk factors of the outbreak.


                                                  Module 3: Lesson 1: Find Cases Systematically and Record Information - Step 5

                                                  Learning objectives:
                                                  • Discuss how affected persons are categorized into population groups based on predetermined characteristics.
                                                  • Explain public health surveillance data and its relation to descriptive analysis.


                                                  Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 14 minutes

                                                  Click here to start this lesson

                                                  Required readings
                                                    Optional readings
                                                      Peer Activities
                                                        QuizzesAssignments
                                                          Discussions
                                                            Questionnare

                                                              Module 3: Lesson 2: Perform Descriptive Epidemiology - Step 6

                                                              Learning objectives:
                                                              • Describe how the people affected in an outbreak and the time and place of an outbreak relate to the causes of and risk factors for an outbreak.
                                                              • Provide examples of descriptive analysis of public health surveillance data.


                                                              Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 28 minutes

                                                              Click here to start this lesson


                                                              Required readingsOptional readings
                                                                Peer Activities
                                                                  QuizzesAssignments
                                                                    Discussions
                                                                      Questionnare

                                                                        Module 3: Lesson 3: Develop Hypotheses - Step 7

                                                                        Learning objectives:
                                                                        • Demonstrate hypothesis development.
                                                                         
                                                                        Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): minutes


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                                                                                  Questionnare

                                                                                    Module 3: Lesson 4: Evaluate Hypotheses Epidemiologically - Step 8

                                                                                    Learning objectives:
                                                                                    • Develop epidemiological studies to test hypotheses regarding sources of exposure. 

                                                                                    Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute):  31 minutes

                                                                                    Click here to start this lesson



                                                                                    Required readingsOptional readings
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                                                                                        QuizzesAssignments
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                                                                                            Questionnare

                                                                                              Module 3: Lesson 5: As Necessary, Reconsider, Refine, and Re-evaluate Hypotheses - Step 9

                                                                                              Learning objectives:
                                                                                              • Discuss the steps of an outbreak investigation.

                                                                                              Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 12 minutes

                                                                                              Click here to start this lesson



                                                                                              Required readingsOptional readings
                                                                                                Peer Activities
                                                                                                  QuizzesAssignments
                                                                                                    Discussions
                                                                                                      Questionnare

                                                                                                        Module 4: Control, Surveillance and Communication (Steps 10-13)

                                                                                                          Competencies covered in this module

                                                                                                        • Be familiar with the steps of an outbreak investigation
                                                                                                        • Review the evidence on current or impending outbreaks; propose and advocate adaptations to policies as needed.
                                                                                                        • Use evidence based methods to identify and recommend control and preventive measures to control an outbreak.
                                                                                                        • Document pathogen and likely sources and transmission pathways so as to inform evidence-based measures to control the outbreak.
                                                                                                        • Establish and maintain indicator and event-based surveillance system(s) to detect public health threats.


                                                                                                        Module 4: Lesson 1: Compare and Reconcile with Laboratory and Environmental Studies - Step 10

                                                                                                        Learning objectives:
                                                                                                        • Discuss the steps of an outbreak investigation.

                                                                                                        Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 6 minutes

                                                                                                        Click here to start this lesson


                                                                                                        Required readingsOptional readings
                                                                                                          Peer Activities
                                                                                                            QuizzesAssignments
                                                                                                              Discussions
                                                                                                                Questionnare

                                                                                                                  Module 4: Lesson 2: Implement Control and Prevention Measures - Step 11

                                                                                                                  Learning objectives:
                                                                                                                  • Summarize the evidence that influences policy during an outbreak.
                                                                                                                  • Connect how evidence influences policy development and change. 
                                                                                                                  • Present the methods used to identify preventative measures to control an outbreak. 

                                                                                                                  • Explain how evidence based methods influence outbreak control and preventative measures.


                                                                                                                  Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 12 minutes

                                                                                                                  Click here to start this lesson

                                                                                                                  Required readingsOptional readings
                                                                                                                    Peer Activities
                                                                                                                      QuizzesAssignments
                                                                                                                        Discussions
                                                                                                                          Questionnare

                                                                                                                            Module 4: Lesson 3: Initiate or Maintain Surveillance - Step 12

                                                                                                                            Learning objectives:
                                                                                                                            • Explain the components of a surveillance system and how they are utilized to detect public health threats.


                                                                                                                            Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute): 29 minutes

                                                                                                                            Click here to start this lesson

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                                                                                                                                QuizzesAssignments
                                                                                                                                  Discussions
                                                                                                                                    Questionnare

                                                                                                                                      Module 4: Lesson 4: Communicate Findings - Step 13

                                                                                                                                      Learning objectives:
                                                                                                                                      • Explain how the components of outbreak investigation are communicated in a report.
                                                                                                                                      • Evaluate the applicability of the outbreak investigation process in your settings.


                                                                                                                                      Approximate time required for the readings for this lesson (at 144 words/minute):  8 hour and 51 minutes

                                                                                                                                      Click here to start this lesson


                                                                                                                                      Required readings
                                                                                                                                        Optional readings
                                                                                                                                          Peer Activities
                                                                                                                                            QuizzesAssignments
                                                                                                                                              DiscussionsQuestionnare

                                                                                                                                                Mentored Activity: Case Study

                                                                                                                                                Competencies covered in this module:

                                                                                                                                                • Conduct outbreak investigations to identify pathogens and other agents, characterise affected population groups, and sources of exposure.


                                                                                                                                                This mentored activity is required for those aiming to fulfill the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Core Competencies for EU Member States oriented for public health epidemiologists, public health microbiologists, and NFP for preparedness. To complete this activity, you will need to identify a mentor with professional health care training who has both a bachelor’s/college degree, a Master of Public Health(MPH), and epidemiological experience or equivalent to assist you.

                                                                                                                                                Click here to start this activity

                                                                                                                                                Final Exam

                                                                                                                                                Click here to start the Final Examination


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                                                                                                                                                            Course and Self Evaluation & Certificate

                                                                                                                                                            In this section, you can provide feedback about this course to help us make NextGenU.org better. Once evaluations are completed, you will be able to download your certificate of completion. 

                                                                                                                                                            Click here give your feedback


                                                                                                                                                            Required readings
                                                                                                                                                              Optional readings
                                                                                                                                                                Peer Activities
                                                                                                                                                                  Quizzes
                                                                                                                                                                    Assignments
                                                                                                                                                                      Discussions
                                                                                                                                                                        Questionnare