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AviFlu is coming!

  • Key Stage 3
  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Simulation
Topic: Infectious disease

As bird flu approaches Britain, people are getting worried. Will there be a pandemic? Will millions be killed? That is the scenario for this gripping simulation of how a viral disease spreads. Science Week runs from the 10-19th March and this activity is ideal for getting the whole school involved. It is interactive and relevant, involves large numbers of students at low cost, and has photo opportunities and potential family involvement. The simulation continues for a set period, perhaps 5 days. After that, students can use the data to focus on how diseases spread.

The spreadsheet and medical team guide were produced by the science and maths departments of Tiffin School, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey. They made data collection easier during the simulation and can easily be adapted. Tiffin school's overall results have been left in as an example.

Published: 6th February 2006
Reviews & Comments: 15

Learning objectives

Students will learn
• about how pandemics spread
• why a virus such as avian flu may be dangerous to humans

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

8c microbes and disease
• some micro-organisms can cause disease
• micro-organisms enter the body by a range of mechanisms
• not all diseases caused by micro-organisms can easily be treated by drugs
• immunisation helps to protect against some diseases

Running the activity

The AviFlu is coming poster (page1) can be displayed around the school beforehand to create suspense. Before the simulation starts, decide for how long and on what scale to run the activity. The number of viruses given to each infected student controls the rate at which it spreads and needs to be chosen to suit the size of the school. Examples are shown in the tables below. The activity starts in earnest with a message appearing on school notice boards: "On Monday morning one person will arrive in school infected by the Aviflu virus". One teacher needs to be nominated to be the first host of the disease, and given an hour to pass it on. There are two main roles for the students. They can be part of the medical team or part of the population. The students in the medical team will need to be briefed and equipped before the activity starts. The paper 'virus' (page 2) has instructions to tell infected students what they have to do.

• Those with the virus are only 'infectious' for the first hour.
• Anyone who spends 5 minutes within 2m of an 'infectious' person can get the disease.
• At the end of the hour the 'infectious' person passes the virus to up to 4 of these people.
• At the next lesson break, those who have received the virus have to report to the 'medical team'.
• The 'medical team' is based in the reception area and records when each victim was infected.
• Those infected receive a purple ribbon, or "infected" badge (page 5), and up to 4 copies of the virus (page2).
• They have an hour to pass on the viruses.
• Purple ribbons, or 'infected' badges, have to be kept hidden until the end of the infectious period, and then worn.
• After 4 hours, or the next day, those with purple ribbons ('infected' badges) return to the 'medical team' to find out whether they live or die.
• Those who die receive 'victim' badges (page 7), or swap their purple ribbons for black, and take a victim card (page 4). Those who survive receive 'survivor' badges (page 6), or swap their purple ribbons for white, and take a survivor card (page 3).

The medical team needs to have at least 2 students on duty at each lesson break. They give ribbons, or badges, and paper viruses to infected students and record an I next to their names in an Excel spreadsheet. If different columns are used for each morning and afternoon, the spread of the disease can be monitored. When infected students return, after four hours, they throw a dice. Those with odd numbers die. The rest survive. The medical team record the outcome and hand out the appropriate ribbons or badges. They should also provide twice daily updates of the total numbers infected, new infections, and deaths.

Equipment needed
(See tables below for an estimate of the numbers).
Poster materials and notice board space.
A table in the reception area for the medical team equipped with:
• A computer with an Excel file of student names arranged by tutor group and a list of teachers.
• Dice.
• Paper viruses (page 2).
• Victim (page4) and survivor (page3) cards.
• Strips of purple, black and white ribbon and safety pins, or printed badges (pages 5-7). These are designed to be printed or photocopied onto Avery No. L7163 self adhesive address labels.
• The "infected" badges will need to be cut out so that they retain their backing paper as students need to keep them hidden for an hour before they wear them.

Further Guidance

Victims of the virus could be excused school uniform so that it becomes a popular and visible option.

Each class could represent a country and the spread of the virus across the school form rooms could be reported as if they were separate countries. E.g. On Tuesday the outbreak reached Japan (form 9TS). Six were initially infected and eventually the disease killed eight people.

The simulation could be extended by letting a trial vaccine 'become available'. Uninfected students could opt to take it. It could be 50% effective and last for 1 day. Vaccinated students could be given certificates. They would need to take them to the medical team when they reported as infectious. The medical team would note who was vaccinated on the spreadsheet. 1 in 2 of the vaccinated students who would otherwise die could be allowed to live.

A science lesson could be used to analyse the spread of the disease, using the data from the simulation. Graphs could be plotted, and the patterns discussed. The conclusions could be presented as an assembly.

Teachers should note that there is a related UPD8 activity on the science behind birdflu. See BIRDFLU-Can Science Save us?

In a large school you could give out the viruses like this:

Day Number of viruses each infected pupil is given to pass on
Monday 4
Tuesday 3
Wednesday 2
Thursday 1
Friday the virus has mutated and is uninfectious

Which gives the following maximum involvement:

infectious infected survivors/victims
Monday am 1 4 0
Monday pm 4 16 0
Tuesday am 16 48 5
Tuesday pm 48 144 21
Wednesday am 144 288 69
Wednesday pm 288 576 213
Thursday am 572 576 501
Thursday pm 572 572 1,073
Friday am 0 572 1,645
Friday pm 0 0 2,217

In a small school you could give out the viruses as follows:

Day Number of viruses each infected pupil is given to pass on
Monday 3
Tuesday 3
Wednesday 2
Thursday 1 (In some schools everyone may be infected by now)
Friday the virus has mutated and is uninfectious

News links

BBC story about the 1918 pandemic. '1918 killer flu secrets revealed.'
BBC story '1918 killer flu 'came from birds.'
BBC news story- 'Bird flu pandemic is stoppable.'
Vomiting virus strikes 250 somerset pupils
Another (non-life threatening) context in which you could use the activity to model disease spreading quickly through a school

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Dec 5th, 2011

5 Star

Incredibly good! Tries this with Years 7-9 and they LOVED it! It really helped that I lowered the proportion and I would recommend also doing so.

Reviewer: Vera Auberdine

avi lfu

Jun 30th, 2010

5 Star

excellent resource user friendly kids loved it

Reviewer: Ashif Dhanani

Applied Science

Nov 6th, 2009

4 Star

good Ideas, could not implement through whole college but did it in class. stickers given to one student and then the virus spread.

Will use again this time about Swine Flu - BBC News website has an excellent map trackin the spread of the disease from March to July 2009

Reviewer: June Freel


Nov 19th, 2008

5 Star

This went down incredibly well with my Yr 8 class in one of my first lessons (I'm a student teacher).

I used the whole school model and scaled it down to a class, adapting the timings and rules to the class. The class got really excited when it was decided if they were going to live or die! It made for excellent discussion points after.

Thankyou very much for making my PGCE year a little less pressure full!

Reviewer: Jonathan Webster

Microbes and Disease

Feb 26th, 2008

5 Star

This actiivty worked very well.
The students especially enjoyed the fact that I had infected them, to the extent that those that weren't infected felt left out.

I also showed clips from the film outbreak as a pleanary. Again emphasising how quickly and some infections spread.

Reviewer: heather parry


Jul 5th, 2007

5 Star

This provided us with a relevant, hands on introductory activity with y10 to cover the aviflu component of the new GCSE. The pupils were buzzing after this activity and other year groups wanted to know when they were going to do the same.

Reviewer: Sheena Murray


Jan 29th, 2007

5 Star

At last - microbes made simple! I tried this with a lower ability class over a week and it worked really well. The co-operation of the rest of the school is needed so that teachers can take no.s during their lesson. I adjusted mine to 1 card instead of 4.

Reviewer: Tina Coulthard

Avi flu activity July 2006

Sep 18th, 2006

4 Star

I ran the activity as a whole school one. I alterned the name of the disease to something less likely to spread panic. The pupils were very excited by the idea of catching something from friends and dying.
Overall a great activity that needs altering to fit school context and pupil type.

Reviewer: timothy clench

AviFlu was great!

Jun 25th, 2006

5 Star

This was a great activity! I ran it whole-school for 3 days - but at a time when we only had years 7-9 and 12 in school. Still approx 1000 potential victims and the organisation was fun.................... to minimise lesson disruption, we only had the medical centre open at break and lunchtime, and forbade passing of viruses during lessons. It really got the whole school talking about science, and gained Science Dept some Brownie points I think

The only snag we hit was that infected students did not read the instructions on their viruses carefully enough, and were not waiting a full hour before infecting anyone else.

After 3 days around 400 people were infected and we'd had just over 100 deaths - not all infected students got a chance to come back and roll their dice. It was interesting in that the initial spread was within one year group, but once the virus got into a different year group, it spread very fast. Most popular moment - when the Head died :-)

Reviewer: Anna Van Opstal

AviFlu is coming

Mar 24th, 2006

5 Star

We ran this two weeks ago. It went so well. All the students entered into the spirit of the exercise. It promted discussions into how a virus would spread and how immunity works. One member of staff went off to the dentist at lunchtime on the first day. On the second day she was busy in the PE dept., all of whom had been infected on the first day. Consequently she never became infected. This brought up the idea of herd immunity.
It was a great fun exercise.

Reviewer: Patricia Wiegold

Avi flu simulation

Mar 21st, 2006

4 Star

I modified the activity to human flu and ran it as part of a unit on Mirobes. It ran through year 8 only and so 4 tokens for each infected person was too much - it spread through the year group in just over a day! I also simplified the virus tokens and gave classroom teachers a simple pro forma to fill in at the start of lessons to minimise pupil movement. Results are being processed as a link to numeracy across the curriculum.
It's worth repeating next year!
Ann Shires
Afon Taf High School, Merthyr Tydfil

Reviewer: Ann Shires

Aviflu is coming

Mar 21st, 2006

5 Star

A fantastic activity. We ran the simulation for KS3 during science week. The kids loved it and were totally engaged. The department has never been so busy during lunchtimes! They particularly enjoyed dying. Staff also really got into it, which helped to encourage the kids enormously. We're going to analyse our data with Y8 classes now.
G. Greenslade
Head of Science, Wyedean School

Reviewer: Gary Greenslade

National Science Week

Mar 17th, 2006

5 Star

I ran AviFlu as a whole school simulation - the main theme running through our Science Week celebrations. It really captured the imagination of the students and raised the whole profile of science across the school. What a fantastic resource - thank you for saving me planning time and giving the students a relevent and topical experience.

Reviewer: Jan Morgan


Mar 17th, 2006

5 Star

Great activity, really gets the students involved and makes a good point. Make sure other staff don't object to the potential disruption- possibly by planning it as a cross-curricular activity.

I haven't had problems printing with this PDF but in the past I've found that if you set the PDF to 'print as image' in advanced settings it may work.

Reviewer: Stephen Burrowes

AviFlu simulation activity

Feb 13th, 2006

1 Star

Sounds great but the PDF isn't downloading properly

Editor: We have checked and the activity seems to be downloading fine. If anyone has problems, see the FAQ or contact us with a description of the problem.

Reviewer: Maureen Trotter