Diffusion of Disease


Students are introduced to the theory of disease spread. Through visual resources, a variety of maps and videos students are provided with the knowledge to explain how the geographic concepts of diffusion by relocation and by expansion apply to the spread of diseases. A number of case study examples, including Ebola and  H1N1 virus are developed to sow how the spread of disease can be managed. the lesson leads uo to a student simulation of  disease outbreak and they required to manage it.

Enquiry Question

How does disease spread and what are the barriers to the spread of disease?

Lesson Time: 2 Hours

Lesson Objectives:

  • To be able to explain how the geographic concepts of diffusion by relocation and by expansion apply to the spread of diseases
  • To examine the application of the concept of barriers in attempts to limit the spread of diseases
  • To describe the factors that have enabled the reduction in incidence of a disease

Teacher Notes:

1a. Flattening the epidemiology curve _ Show the Flattening curve GIF and ask students to discuss why understanding disease diffusion is so important and 2. What do authorities need to understand and action in order to flatten curve?

1b. Interpreting Map and Critical thinking_Synthesis and Place_Start by showing students the 1852 cholera map of Baker Street and students should attempt to explain the potential reason for the spread.

2. Interpreting Spatial Patterns_Spatial Interactions_Then show the BBC time lapse mapping of Swine Flu in 2009. Again what factors can students suggest explains the spread?

3. Listening Comprehension_ Processes_Follow this up with the video showing how Swine Flu could spread?

4. Teacher led presentation_Processes_Use the PDF presentation as a class resource and run through the theoretical background to the spread of disease. Students should make notes on the types of diffusion. and attempt to identify examples of diseases that follow each type of diffusion. Students can be given a a print out of this presentation

5. Critical Thinking_Processes_Keeping with the presentation, firstly ask students to identify natural and human barriers to disease and then run through the examples in the presentation.

6. Applying Knowledge_Places and Processes_Students should look at the map of the spread of Ebola in West Africa. What type of spread was it and what factors limited the spread?

7. Reading Comprehension_Processes and Possibilities_Students can then read the BBC report based on the early stages of the spread of H1N1 virus and attempt to identify human strategies for its containment and reduction.

8. Decision Making Activity_ Synthesis_Students should attempt to manage a disease outbreak in the simulation activity.

Clear thought should be given to containment, isolation, medical provision, sanitation, travel flows, gender sensitivities

9. Student Enquiry_Places , Processes and Possibilities_A homework task or research task can be completed researching the spread of one disease and the physical and human ways its spread was reduced. It might be sensible at this point to allocate diseases you want to develop as case studies later. At the same time students also find their own choice of disease motivating.

Starter Activity - Synthesis - Epidemiology Curve

Study the GIF graph below and discuss:

  1. Why understanding disease diffusion is so important
  2. What authorities need to understand and action in order to flatten curve?

Starter Activity_Synthesis and Places_Map

1. Students should study the map, which shows the locations of places people died of a disease outbreak in 1852. What possible causes to the spread of the disease does the map suggest?

2. Click on the image below and play the BBC time lapse of the spread Swine Flu in 2009. What factors do you think explain its spread?

Now study the following interactive CNN map tracking the growth and spread of covid-19

Student Activity_Spatial Interactions_Swine Flu

Watch the following video from NHS Choice to see how Swine Flu spread

Student Activity_Processes_Disease Diffusion Presentation

Watch the following short video on the differences between epidemics and pandemics and note down how disease spreads across a population.

Follow the presentation and make notes on how disease spreads through relocation and diffusion

Disease Diffusion

Student Activity_Places and Processes_Map Analysis

Click on the image below, which shows the BBC mapping of the Ebola spread in Sierra Leone in 2014.

1. What type of spread was it?

2. What regional factors act as barriers to slow or prevent its spread in the region.

3. Make a list of natural and human barriers to the spread of disease

Student Activity_Processes and Possibilities_ H1N1 Spread

Read the following exert adapted from a BBC report at the early stages of the spread of H1N1 virus and identify the attempts made to manage its spread.


Student Activity_Synthesis_Disease Outbreak - Simulation Activity

Students should work in pairs and have been contracted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in their disease prevention unit.

Three urgent cases come into the office for your attention.

  1. An outbreak of cholera in a Jordanian refugee camp
  2. A heightened concern about the SARS virus, otherwise known as avian flu. The fear is that it will become a pandemic.
  3. The transfer of Ebola at the national scale and the global scale

You are required to work as a consultancy team to prepare a plan of disease prevention for one or more of these disease outbreaks.

You should write a plan of action to prepare, plan and prevent further disease diffusion at the scale required.

  • Consider in your plan the following:
  • Containment, isolation, medical provision, sanitation, travel flows, gender sensitivities, short term and long term needs
  • You will present you plan to the class and your briefing should take up to 10 minutes

Student Activity_Places, Processes and Possiibilities_Research Task

Using their knowledge to date students should research one disease of choice and produce a fact sheet on how it spreads and the factors that led to the reduction of its spread.

Include in your report the following:

  1. Name of disease and main method of transmission, location
  2. The geo-physical factors that lead to the outbreak of the disease
  3. A description and or map of its spatial spread
  4. Human factors that increase human vulnerability to the disease
  5. A theoretical explanation of its spread
  6. The physical and human factors that led to a reduction of its spread.

Key Takeaways

Watch the following video as a summary of key ideas from the lesson

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