McMaster University’s Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) program is teaching students about COVID-19 with a new course for the current term called Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The inquiry-based course was created by instructors Padman Jayaratne, associate professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster and a clinical microbiologist with the Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program, and Hartley Jafine, a facilitator with the BHSc program and lecturer with the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster.

“The perspective I hope students develop is an understanding of emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19, and how all of the conversations we are presently having on this topic are deeply interconnected,” said Jafine.

Taught online, the third-year course gives students the opportunity to explore, investigate and understand a broad range of concepts and facts relating to emerging infectious diseases in humans and society. The scope of the course is wide, from the origins and geographic prevalence to clinical features of the disease and management and treatment strategies.

In addition, factors leading to the emergence of infectious diseases and pandemics and their disease impact on human health, health-care delivery, health communication, society, the arts, local and global economy, and political aspects are also discussed.

“One of the first things we talked about with the students was what they knew about emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19, and the stereotypes and beliefs surrounding this topic,” said Jafine. “Then, we asked them to go out and identify a piece of misinformation in the news about COVID and then find research that illustrates why this information is inaccurate.”

Each instructor brings their own areas of expertise to the course, marrying the arts and sciences.

“I was able to use Hartley’s experience and expertise in health communication and arts in developing and facilitating this course,” said Jayaratne. “I wanted to include the multidisciplinary, interconnected aspects of emerging infectious diseases and pandemics and their impact on every aspects of the society.”

The course began May 4 and goes to June 19.

Jake Howran, who is entering his third year of the Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences program, is one of the 12 students currently enrolled in the course.

“I chose this course because it is a reminder of why I study what I do,” Howran said. “Aside from being extremely informative and insightful in so many ways, it addresses topics that otherwise many students in STEM will not have the opportunity to engage with.”

Just a few weeks in, Howran said the course has already opened his eyes and his mind.

“It has increased my awareness of global impacts tenfold,” he said. “There are connections seen in the most unlikely of places — changes in behavior shaped by the impact on the arts and supply chain restrictions aggravated by miscommunication in health. It is a matrix and this course has played an important role in decoding it.”

Diya Jhuti will be starting her third year of the BHSc program this fall. She said the course has exceeded her expectations.

“This course has allowed me to gain a holistic view on COVID-19 and related topics,” said Jhuti. “I’ve learned about the biological impacts and the pathophysiology of the virus, the science behind potential vaccines, as well has the virus’ impact on geopolitics, food security, diagnostic strategies, and containment strategies.

“The structure of the course allows for a well-rounded understanding of infectious diseases, which is supported by the different perspectives of my peers and the professors.”  

Learn more about the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at McMaster here.