Ebola PBL

This was the first PBL activity I implemented into my Honors (it would be fine for regular, that’s the beauty of PBL) 10th grade Biology class. Since it was my first “problem” for the students, I allowed them the choice of “problem” to address. For the more science minded students, the Cell-Sensor was more attractive. For the less science minded students, they felt more comfortable with the social aspect of the Ebola outbreak and the reintroduction to the community. I should add as a side note that I did spend 3 weeks on the specifics of the Ebola outbreak but I did not dive into the specifics of cells and viral components.

Cell-based Sensor for Detecting Ebola Virus

The U.S. Government has requested preliminary proposals for the design of a device that can detect the Ebola virus. The device should be designed so that it is able to respond to the presence of the Ebola virus as rapidly and with as much sensitivity as is possible and is capable of remaining functional for two weeks or more in the field. The design that best meets these criteria will be fully funded to complete the design of the device.

The large biomedical engineering company that you work for has decided to compete for funding for this project. The company’s strategy is to construct a mammalian-cell based device that is capable of detecting the Ebola virus. Your team is responsible for developing the detection assay. Other teams will be responsible for implementing this assay in the field (hint: you will have to have a basic understanding of what Ebola does to the immune system to create your assay).

Your proposal (< 2 pages, excluding figures) must include a description of the following:

(1) the cell type(s) used

(2) the enzyme(s) or proteins to be detected

(3) how the level of enzyme activity will be quantitatively measured

(4) a figure that allows one to correlate the level of enzyme activity to the concentration Ebola virus

The Social Stigma of Surviving Ebola

(background) The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 1000 lives so far. More than 1800 people, mostly in Guinea, are suspected of having caught the illness, which causes horrific suffering, including bursting blood vessels and bleeding from ears and other orifices. There is no vaccine, no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal. But a handful of the infected do survive. Unfortunately for the lucky few, the stink of stigma lingers long after the virus has been purged from their bodies.

“Thanks be to God, I am cured. But now I have a new disease: the stigmatization that I am a victim of,” said the Guinean doctor, who spoke to The Associated Press but refused to give his name for fear of further problems the publicity would cause him and his family. “This disease (the stigma) is worse than the fever.” Surviving Ebola is a matter of staying alive long enough to have the chance to develop enough antibodies to fight off the virus, said David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

That’s because it’s typically the symptoms of Ebola — severe fever, hemorrhaging, dehydration, respiratory problems — that kills a patient.

Even though he has been cleared of Ebola, the doctor says that people avoid him. “Now, everywhere in my neighborhood, all the looks bore into me like I’m the plague,” he said. People leave places when he shows up. No one will shake his hand or eat with him. His own brothers are accusing him of putting their family in danger.

Stigma often accompanies the spread of deadly, poorly understood diseases, said Meredith Stakem, a health and nutrition adviser for Catholic Relief Services in West Africa, noting that the terrified reaction to Ebola recalls the early days of the HIV epidemic. The families of those who die from Ebola face similar problems.

Aziz Soumah, who lives in a suburb of the Guinean capital of Conakry, said his family was forced to move after his brother died, apparently from Ebola.

“I went to pray at the mosque. As soon as I entered, all the worshippers left the mosque,” recounted Soumah, a 30-year-old engineer. “I was alone. No one around me.”

International health organizations are doing extensive community outreach to explain how the disease is transmitted — only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of symptomatic people — and to explain that those cured are no longer contagious.

Your proposal must include a description of the following:

  1. Strategy for reintroduction of the patient to their community – what strategies will you use to return the discharged patient to his community safely and at the same time letting the community know that you believe the patient to be “cured” and safe for reintroduction.
  2. Education and awareness for members of the community about the disease and how it’s spread – what strategy will you use to address the misconceptions of the community with regards to Ebola and how it’s spread.
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