School of Population Health

Infectious Diseases Challenges: Epidemiology and Control (PHCM9782)

image - Current Challenges in Infectious Diseases


In our history pathogens such as HIV, Ebola, Avian Influenza, SARS and more recently Zika virus and COVID-19 have emerged to challenge human populations. This course will introduce you to the challenges of identifying and controlling infectious diseases through an appreciation of key factors such as differing modes of transmission, the importance of surveillance in achieving disease prevention and control, key steps in outbreak investigation and current disease control strategies. Examples including Ebola, influenza, measles, pneumococcal disease, rota virus, SARS, COVID-19 and TB will be used to learn about preparing for and containing diseases with potentially catastrophic impact to the health and economic stability. This course supports you achieving a range of capabilities that you will need if you are planning to have a career in epidemiology and infectious disease control.

This is a PLuS Alliance course offered through UNSW. Students at UNSW, Arizona State University and King's College London who are in a PLuS Alliance program can enrol into this course.

Please note prior to 2019 this course was titled Current Challenges in Infectious Diseases.

Credit points

This course is a core course in the Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence program, and is also an elective course in the Master of Public Health, Master of Global Health and the Master of Health Leadership and Management programs. It comprises 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program. There are no pre-requisites for this course.

Mode of study

This course is offered in two modes: 1) either face-to-face classes on-campus for Internal students, and 2) fully online for Distance External students.

Course aim

This course aims to introduce you to the challenges of infectious diseases through an appreciation of the theory of their transmission modes and epidemiology, the important role of surveillance; the process of undertaking outbreak investigations, the challenge of antimicrobial resistance and the range of prevention and control strategies available for implementation at an individual, organisational and national level. Lastly, we will explore the development and implementation of infectious disease prevention and control programs and the issues that may arise.

Course Outcomes

By the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of infectious disease epidemiology including important modes of transmission and the burden of disease in the international context.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of surveillance principles and practice and the ability to identify the appropriate features of surveillance systems of relevance in particular settings.
  • Be able to determine appropriate strategies for investigating an outbreak and to propose additional strategies to contain and prevent further spread of an outbreak.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of modelling in guiding infectious disease control including basic concepts underlying transmission and cost-effectiveness modelling.
  • Discuss the main challenges in undertaking activities around the surveillance and control of infectious diseases.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the methods used to control infectious diseases and engage critically with relevant literature for the purpose of evaluating interventions in a specific context.
Learning and teaching rationale

Postgraduate teaching aims to support students in developing their capacity for inquiry and critical thinking. In this course, an active learning approach is encouraged through interactive instruction, self-directed learning, collaborative problem solving and peer learning. Core content is provided through lectures, with some of the lectures facilitated by external experts to allow students the opportunity to be exposed to a diversity of perspectives. Weekly small group activities, including the use of case studies and online student discussions, have been designed to engage students in the learning process. Lastly, for each of the module that we cover, you will find a dedicated Moodle book which will include additional resources such as short lectures, videos and key readings to promote and encourage active and self-directed learning. It is expected that students will draw on a range of resources to enrich their own learning.

The approach to learning and teaching that we use in this course has been designed to allow flexibility in the way that you engage with the material each week and to provide you with the skills to empower you to be a lifelong learner.

Teaching strategies

The course is designed around the key aspects of infectious disease epidemiology and control as outlined in the learning outcomes. Each week, the course convenors or external experts will present material focused on a different topic and will provide opportunities for discussion (in class or via Moodle). This course features blended learning elements, with pre-recorded lectures for some weeks to reserve more time for tutorial activities in class and online and through discussion forums. The learning approach will vary according to the Module content. While each week covers a different topic, they build upon each other. For example, an appreciation of surveillance approaches will assist with learning about outbreak investigations and knowledge about the epidemiology of different infectious diseases will help when we talk about different control strategies.


Assessment Task 1 - Weekly Online Quizzes
Weighting: 20%
Length: Number of questions: 2-5

Assessment Task 2 - Short Epidemiology Case Study
Weighting: 30%
Length: 1200 words

Assessment Task 2 - Report
Weighting: 50%
Length: 2500 words

Readings and resources
Learning resources for this course consist of the following:
  1. Lectures slides (posted in Moodle)
  2. Lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  3. Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts (available in Moodle)
Recommended resources

Learning resources for this course are listed in the course pack at the end of each Module. In addition the following textbooks are recommended background reading:

Plant, A. J., & Watson, C. (2008). Communicable disease control: an introduction. East Hawthorn, Vic: IP Communications.

Giesecke, J. (2001) Modern Infectious Disease Epidemiology, 2nd ed, Taylor & Francis. Ebook available from UNSW Library.

Heymann, D.L. (2004). Control of communicable diseases manual: an official report of the American Public Health Association (18th ed.). Washington, D.C: American Public Health Association