Human cases of swine influenza have now been identified in the United States and several other countries and fear is mounting that the world could be on the verge of another killer flu pandemic. Secretary of the Department Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, declared a public health emergency in the United States. Researchers are focusing on how the virus mutates and are working to develop effective treatment and a vaccine that will curb the spread of the flu.

PART 1: What is a Virus and How Does it Spread? - 50 mins

1. To create student interest have students use their prior knowledge to answer the questions on the What Do You Know? handout. Encourage students to work in small groups to answer each question. Allow approximately 5 minutes for this activity.

2. When groups have finished answering questions, conduct an all class discussion by reviewing the correct answer for each question and providing students with background information and details about the answers to each question. Encourage students to take notes as you discuss the questions as a class.

3. Write the word "virus" on the board or overhead. Direct students to write their best definition of a virus based on what was learned from the What Do You Know? handout and class discussion.

4. Have students share their definition of a virus and then provide the correct definition on the board or overhead. A correct definition could be something such as: virus: a microorganism that can cause a variety of diseases when it grows and reproduces in the living cells of another organism.

5. Pose the following question for students: "How do viruses spread?" Provide students with several minutes to brainstorm and discuss this question. Write key words and ideas about how viruses spread in the form of a list on the board or overhead.

6. To illustrate how a virus can spread, conduct the following simulation with the class.

  • Direct all students in the class to write their names on a piece of scratch paper and place it on your desk.
  • Collect all of the pieces of paper and randomly choose the name of one student in the class and place it in an envelope. Do not allow students to see the name of the person.
  • Make a chart with 5 columns on a large piece of paper, the board, or overhead.
  • Choose a student (not the one whose name appears in the envelope) to go around the classroom and shake hands with four classmates. Record the name of that student at the top of column 1 and the names of the four classmates s/he shook hands with under his/her name. Then write their names at the top of the four remaining columns.
  • Direct these four students to go around the classroom and shake hands with four other students.
  • Under each person's name, record the names of the four students they shook hands with during the exercise.
  • Open the envelope and reveal the name of the person who has the virus.
  • Study the chart and see how many students were directly exposed to the virus by shaking this person's hand.
  • Study the chart again and see how many students were indirectly exposed to the virus by shaking the hand of someone who had shaken the hand of the infected person. Use this activity to discuss how viruses are transmitted from one person to another, often unknowingly or before the signs of illness are present.
  • Discuss how this can lead to epidemics of an illness in a relatively short period of time.
PART 2: Examining the Swine Flu Virus - 50 mins
1. Write the term Swine Flu on the board or overhead. Conduct a class discussion about what students already know about Swine flu by using questions such as:

  • What is Swine flu?
  • What causes Swine flu?
  • Who is at risk for getting Swine flu?
  • How is Swine flu transmitted?
  • When was Swine flu discovered?
  • Where are the greatest number of cases of Swine flu surfacing?
  • Why is there so much concern about Swine flu worldwide?
  • What is a pandemic?
2. Read the article Swine Flu Prompts New Travel Warnings as Cases Grow with students and revisit the questions from step 7 above.

3. Discuss what the CDC says are the most effective actions people can take to stay healthy.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
Extension Activities
PART 3: Demonstrating What You Have Learned - 50 mins
1. Now that students have a basic understanding of viruses and how they are spread, information about swine flu, and knowledge of how vaccines are made, they should create a project that demonstrates what they have learned and requires them to conduct additional research to take their learning to a higher level. 2. Provide students time to choose a project and begin work on their research. Examples could be create a map that shows the regions of the world where swine flu cases have been documented, create a model, flow chart, or diagram that explains the mutation process viruses go through as they change over time, create an informational display, pamphlet, or poster that could be used to educate people worldwide about swine flu.

The amount of class time spent preparing projects should be based on the time constraints of the individual teacher. Some additional class time (at least part of 1 class period) will be needed for students to present their projects.

McRel Compendium of K-12 Standards Addressed:


Standard 2: Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health. Standard 8: Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease


Standard 4: Understands the principle of heredity and related concepts

Standard 7: Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life

Language Arts Writing

Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes


Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Listening and Speaking

Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Working with Others Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

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