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Temperature increases associated with global climate change have led to concerns that infectious diseases common in warmer tropical and subtropical climates may become more common in warming middle latitudes. A dramatic spread in tropical and subtropical infectious diseases could imperil significant human and animal populations in North America and Europe that lack immunity and resistance to these foreign diseases.

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a serious disease that is spread through mosquito bites producing symptoms in humans similar to meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of the spinal cord and brain) including fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, headache and body ache. Although symptoms for most people are mild, the disease for some can have long-lasting effects such as chronic fatigue, headaches and dementia-like symptoms. Mortality from WNV also occurs especially in young children, the elderly and those with already compromised immune systems.

Before 1999, WNV was unknown in North America. WNV was first isolated in Uganda, Africa in 1937 and the connection between human illness and WNV was realized in Israel in 1957. Since 1937 there have been significant outbreaks of WNV in humans throughout the world including Algeria in 1994, Romania in 1996-1997, the Czech Republic in 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998, Russia in 1999, the United States in 1999-2003, and Israel in 2000.

Maps of infections in humans, animals and mosquitoes provide clear documentation of the progressive spread of WNV virus across North America. In 1999, 62 cases of human WNV were reported in New York with three states reporting infections in birds, animals or mosquitoes. By 2003, 39 states reported significant numbers of human infections with only 6 states reporting no infections. By 2010, all states except for Alaska and Hawaii reported human, animal or mosquito incidents of WNV infection.

The rapid spread of WNV is most likely due to migration of infected birds. Several studies also indicate that there is a close connection between increases in temperature and changes in precipitation patterns that contributed to the rapid spread of WNV. Specifically, there appears to be a correlation between warmer temperatures, elevated humidity and heavier precipitation, and the increased rate of human WNV infection.



Basic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is extremely interested in the possibility that climate change is and will contribute to the spread of diseases to higher latitudes. Your group has been asked to investigate the validity of their concerns. Based on your ESS analysis, provide them with feedback on the likelihood of disease migration and offer recommendations for mitigation.

Comprehensive. Your environmental consulting company has been hired by a state agency to evaluate the claims made by scientists about the correlation between human WNV infection and changes in temperature, humidity levels and heavier precipitation. They want to know whether there is a strong correlation between these factors and WNV infection and whether there are other possible explanations. As part of your research your company needs to analyze the data to compare climate predictions in the U.S. through the year 2100. Your company is also charged with developing a plan to monitor the potential spread of the disease and an action plan that can be implemented to inform the public.


Date: 3/18/2010

Scenario Images:

West Nile Virus Occurrences 1999-2003
Maps from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention showing the incidence of West Nile Virus infections in humans and animals for 1999, 2001 and 2003. In four years, reports of infections spread to all lower 48 states as well as some Canadian provinces. Image: Center for Disease Control



Center for Disease Control - West Nile Virus (Cycle A)
Comprehensive information on West Nile Virus including symptoms, prevention and history. This site also has links to other resources about WNV and other infectious diseases.


Is Global Warming Harmful to Health? (Cycle A)
Scientific American article that outlines the potential for an increase in infectious disease with changes in global climate.


NASA site on warming world (Cycle A)
A comprehensive and powerful website that includes abundant information about global climate change.


NEO - Nasa Earth Observations (Cycle A)
Provides data related to all spheres of the earth systems that can be downloaded as overlays for Google Earth. You may consider using this site to develop historical maps of temperature anomalies for the date and place of interest to your study.


PBS Journey to Hot Zones (Cycle A)
A PBS webpage that investigates how hot zones of disease form as a result of degradation of the environment through human activities.


Center for Disease Control - Climate Change and Public Health (Cycle B)
A summary and additional resources on zoonitic and vector borned diseases that may spread due to climate change.


NASA. Scientifc Visualization Studio (Cycle B)
Progression of West Nile through the continental U.S.


U.S. Climate Change Science Program (Cycle B)
Comprehensive site that contains abundant materials on climate change. The booklet "Climate Change Literacy" is a must read for all citizens providing a straightforward and complete resource about climate and climate change. Search "vector borne diseases" for specifics related to infectious disease.


United States Geological Survey - Disease Maps (Cycle B)
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has prepared a series of maps that show the distribution of West Nile Virus for different years. The maps are interactive and lead to specific WNV information for each state. Information on other mosquito borne diseases are also available.


Sample Investigations:


Climate Change Effects on Organisms and Ecosystems: You are the Experts! (Cycle A)
In this activity students investigate the impact of climate change on different ecosystems. Teams of students are charged with investigating different ecosystems and then present results to the class. Numerous website are provided for reference.
Difficulty: beginner


NASA Earth Observations (NEO) (Cycle B)
This excellent website allows the user to investigate datasets from the ocean, energy, atmosphere land and life. Data can be downloaded to be used in Google Earth. Investigate correlations between temperature and rainfall to test hypotheses about the connection of climate and disease spread.
Difficulty: intermediate


Rift Valley Fever (Cycle C)
Grades 7-12 tudents explore the spread of Rift Valley Fever. A problem-based lesson investigating the spread of Rift Valley Fever in Keny and sub-Saharan Africa.
Difficulty: intermediate




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • Constancy, change, and measurement
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Light, heat, electricity, and magnetism
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • The characteristics of organisms
        • Life cycles of organisms
        • Organisms and environments
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Properties of earth materials
        • Objects in the sky
        • Changes in earth and sky
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Understanding about science and technology
        • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal health
        • Characteristics and changes in populations
        • Types of resources
        • Changes in environments
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Properties and changes of properties in matter
        • Transfer of energy
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Structure and function in living systems
        • Reproduction and heredity
        • Regulation and behavior
        • Populations and ecosystems
        • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
        • Earth's history
        • Earth in the solar system
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal health
        • Populations, resources, and environments
        • Natural hazards
        • Risks and benefits
        • Science and technology in society
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Science as a human endeavor
        • Nature of science
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Chemical reactions
        • Interactions of energy and matter
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Interdependence of organisms
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Geochemical cycles
        • Origin and evolution of the earth system
        • Origin and evolution of the universe
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Abilities of technological design
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal health
        • Personal and community health
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
        • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Science as a human endeavor
        • Nature of scientific knowledge
  • Mathematics
    Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000 This set of Standards proposes the mathematics concepts that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Each of these ten Standards applies across all grades, prekindergarten through grade 12. Even though each of these ten Standards applies to all grades, emphases and expectations will vary both within and between the grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). For instance, the emphasis on number is greatest in prekindergarten through grade 2, and by grades 9-12, number receives less instructional attention. Also the total time for mathematical instruction will be divided differently according to particular needs in each grade band - for example, in the middle grades, the majority of instructional time would address algebra and geometry.
      Mathematics instructional programs should foster the development of number and operation sense so that all students—
      • understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems;
      • use computational tools and strategies fluently and estimate appropriately.
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to patterns, functions, symbols, and models so that all students—
      • understand various types of patterns and functional relationships;
      • use symbolic forms to represent and analyze mathematical situations and structures;
      • use mathematical models and analyze change in both real and abstract contexts.
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to geometry and spatial sense so that all students—
      • select and use different representational systems, including coordinate geometry and graph theory;
      • use visualization and spatial reasoning to solve problems both within and outside of mathematics.
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to measurement so that all students—
      • understand attributes, units, and systems of measurement;
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to data analysis, statistics, and probability so that all students—
      • pose questions and collect, organize, and represent data to answer those questions;
      • interpret data using methods of exploratory data analysis;
      • develop and evaluate inferences, predictions, and arguments that are based on data;
      Mathematics instructional programs should focus on solving problems as part of understanding mathematics so that all students—
      • build new mathematical knowledge through their work with problems;
      • develop a disposition to formulate, represent, abstract, and generalize in situations within and outside mathematics;
      • apply a wide variety of strategies to solve problems and adapt the strategies to new situations;
      • monitor and reflect on their mathematical thinking in solving problems.
      Mathematics instructional programs should focus on learning to reason and construct proofs as part of understanding mathematics so that all students—
      • recognize reasoning and proof as essential and powerful parts of mathematics;
      • make and investigate mathematical conjectures;
      • develop and evaluate mathematical arguments and proofs;
      Mathematics instructional programs should use communication to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking to communicate with others;
      • express mathematical ideas coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others;
      • extend their mathematical knowledge by considering the thinking and strategies of others;
      • use the language of mathematics as a precise means of mathematical expression.
      Mathematics instructional programs should emphasize connections to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • recognize and use connections among different mathematical ideas;
      Mathematics instructional programs should emphasize mathematical representations to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena.
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
      • That people create regions to interpret Earth’s complexity
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth’s surface
      • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface
      People are central to geography in that human activities help shape Earth’s surface, human settlements and structures are part of Earth’s surface, and humans compete for control of Earth’s surface. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
      • The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth’s cultural mosaics
      • The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth’s surface
      • The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How human actions modify the physical environment
      • How physical systems affect human systems
      • The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources
      Knowledge of geography enables people to develop an understanding of the relationships between people, places, and environments over time — that is, of Earth as it was, is, and might be. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future
  • Technology
    The International Society for Technology Education From and
      • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.
      • Students are proficient in the use of technology.
      • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
      • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.
      • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
      • Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
      • Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
      • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
      • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
      • Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
      • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.
      • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
      • Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.
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