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How to assess if an outbreak has occurred

Your success at investigating the pattern of unusual student absences has led to your team being put in charge of the entire Health Department investigation. Your boss, the Director, has been working with school principals and parents and has sent you the following e-mail: http://science.education.nih.gov/Supplements/NIH6/inquiry/Activities/activity2/email_a2.htm

You should also come up with some new specific, testable questions to ask.
Use the text of the http://science.education.nih.gov/Supplements/NIH6/inquiry/Activities/activity2/interview-quotes.htm and the school calendars in the Director's e-mail to come up with some new hypotheses about how and when the health problems might have arisen. Be sure to compare the calendars with each other as you investigate.

Based on your research, is there a common reason for the absences? If so, what? If no, why not?

What are the possible causes for the illnesses?

How could students have been exposed to a disease-causing organism at the same time?

If they were exposed at the same time, when were they most likely to have been exposed? Explain.

Come up with six testable, specific questions you could ask that would help further your investigation.

Come up with two testable, clear hypotheses about what you think is behind the absences. Be sure to base your hypotheses on the evidence you have obtained.
In a short paragraph, explain why the following hypothesis is scientifically a poor one: "These students were absent because there is bad stuff in the stars happening with Mars in Aquarius."

Solution Preview

Yes, there is a common reason. Most of the students seemed to be suffering from headache, fever, and most commonly stomach aches.

It could have been food poisoning or viral gastroenteritis.

The students could have been exposed at their meeting with the two schools or at the Battle of the Bands. Both schools were in contact with each other during these two events.

The most likely day the exposure occurred was at the Battle of the Bands. This seems to be most likely because symptoms appeared the next day, which correlates with food poisoning ...

Solution Summary

This solution contains information on possible illnesses that may be responsible for the student absences at two different schools. This information is based off of evidence from the links in the problem. The organism most likely responsible for the illness is included There is a hypothesis and an explanation as to why the hypothesis in the problem is not a good example. Links are also included, if needed.

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