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Campus Outbreak!

Modeling Seasonal Influenza


Marcia Harrison-Pitaniello
Department of Biological Sciences
Marshall University
Jessica L. Shiltz
Department of Epidemiology
West Virgina University
Robert E. Hughes
Department of Mathematics
Marshall University
Roger L. Estep
Department of Mathematics
Marshall University
Anna B. Mummert
Department of Mathematics
Marshall University


This PowerPoint-driven case study follows the progress of three undergraduate students as they attempt to model the rapid spread of an influenza outbreak to determine whether their local newspaper's claim that "40% of the campus has the flu" is accurate. The case introduces epidemiological modeling using a base model for a seasonal influenza outbreak written in the NetLogo programmable modeling environment. In class, students develop tests for the various parameters of the model, run simulations, and evaluate the output. The students then explore the impact of influenza control strategies (vaccination, isolation, and antiviral medications), and finish with the question of whether the continuing outbreak on campus could be a pandemic. The case is written at a basic level for a lower-level undergraduate lecture-style class, but can be adapted to upper-level courses as well. The case was piloted in four different microbiology courses. The simulations stimulated active discussion and the content worked well, whether it was used in a pre-nursing microbiology or upper-level immunology class.


  • Introduce mathematical modeling for the prediction of the spread of influenza.
  • Investigate different epidemiological parameters that contribute to the spread of influenza or any infectious disease.
  • Know the components of the basic infection model.
  • Interpret data from NetLogo information and graphs obtained from modifying certain infection parameters in order to predict various infection timelines.
  • Distinguish between various control measures (behavior verses biological control).
  • Distinguish between a pandemic and a non-pandemic outbreak.
  • Evaluate historical data and use it to predict the causes and changes associated with a pandemic.
  • Interpret data for modifying the Base Seasonal model that would follow the trend for a pandemic.


Influenza; epidemiology; vaccine; antivirals; pandemic; flu; mathematical modeling; NetLogo;

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Clicker, Demonstration, Dilemma/Decision, Directed, Discussion



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Epidemiology  |   Microbiology  |   Public Health  |   Mathematics  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

The following brief animations (~1 minute, ~3MB) are linked from within the case study.


  Influenza S-E-I-R