School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Outbreak Investigation & Intelligence (PHCM9788)

This course is offered in Term 2 in two different modes:

1) Face-to-face for internal students, and
2) Fully online for external students.

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


Infectious diseases continue to threaten humanity. The emergence of novel human pathogens and old pathogens in new environments has tested the bounds of existing infectious diseases intelligence generation and response capacity. Recent experiences with infectious diseases management has seen new and expanded roles for military, health agencies, international organisations, NGOs and other stakeholders, all of whom should have an in-depth grounding in infectious diseases intelligence. This course aims to give you the skills to interpret surveillance and outbreak data, analyse expected and aberrant epidemiological patterns, investigate outbreaks, and understand principles of epidemic modeling in the context of field epidemiology, outbreak investigation and control.


Outbreak investigation is central to field epidemiology, and infectious diseases intelligence and surveillance underpin outbreak identification, response and control. The focus of this course is on understanding routine and unusual disease outbreaks and the application of methods for their detection and investigation and control in developed and resource-limited settings. The course uses case studies to teach epidemiologic disease pattern recognition, identification of aberrant patterns, and interpretation of epidemic and surveillance data to inform and conduct outbreak investigation and disease control. The course explores a number of outbreaks from around the world in case studies, lectures, discussion forums, webinars and readings to teach principles of outbreak detection, verification, investigation, communication and control. You will learn about outbreak data analysis and interpretation, outbreaks in vulnerable populations as well as the role of the laboratory. An overview of field epidemiology methods, fundamentals of relevant analytical study design and analysis, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases will also be covered. Case studies include salmonella, E. coli, enterovirus, hepatitis, avian influenza, MERS coronavirus, and Ebola outbreaks.

Course description
  • This course is designed to teach outbreak investigation, public health intelligence and surveillance methods. The course will provide a grounding in epidemiological pattern recognition (epidemic, endemic, sporadic) in infectious diseases for first-outbreak responders, surveillance officers, or policy makers from medicine, allied health, public health, emergency management, law enforcement, military or others from  relevant backgrounds.
  • Case studies in outbreak investigation, risk assessment, risk mitigation, response and prevention will be studied. These will cover Ebola virus disease, MERS-CoV, avian influenza and salmonellosis; distinguishing natural from unnatural epidemics, surveillance tools, rapid intelligence and analysis methods.
  • Data quality in resource limited settings and implications for risk assessment will be examined.
  • Understanding of modelling and forecasting of infectious diseases based on known transmission dynamics and patterns will also be explored.
  • Preparation of first line responders to optimise usage of infectious diseases intelligence techniques will be covered, including prioritisation of data sourcing/mining, strengthening, mapping disease transmission patterns to modes of transmission, and ultimately epidemic control measures.
  •  This is a companion course to Bioterrorism and Health Intelligence (PHCM9789), and should be taken by anyone considering a career in epidemic response and field epidemiology.
Credit points

This course is a core course of the Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence Program, comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study program. A value of 6 UOC requires a minimum of 150 hours work for the average student across the semester.

Who should do this course?

This course is designed for stakeholders from any relevant sector, who wish to gain a better understanding of outbreak investigation, and infectious diseases intelligence in the era of new and emerging disease threats, and management approaches for the identification, assessment, prevention and control of infectious diseases. Students will have an intensive, interactive experience, which will include exposure to the perspectives of different stakeholder sectors in infectious diseases.

Flexible delivery

For busy professionals with diverse needs, we provide you the flexibility to do this course face-to-face or fully online. We ensure an equivalent interactive and intensive experience regardless of which mode of delivery you choose. Our experienced tutors will also be available to discuss problems online as well as face-to-face in the classroom.

Learning and teaching rationale

The approach to learning and teaching and the organisation of this course are designed to encourage the development of lifelong learning skills and intellectual flexibility that can be applied to the area of outbreak investigation and infectious diseases intelligence, prevention, control and preparedness. Whilst each module is a discrete learning experience, the modules are mutually informing and interrelated.

Teaching strategies

Pre-course module for students -  If you do not have a background in health or medicine, you are strongly encouraged to complete the short online module Essentials of Public Health (available on your Moodle course site) before beginning the course modules. The content in this module will be referred to in your online discussions and activities. 

Internal students - We will use a ‘Flipped Classroom” approach in this course. This will consist of both face-to-face class and online components.  You will watch lecture videos outside of class time and experience related case studies in the class room. As an internal student, you are required to attend the on campus classes.

External students - This course is available fully online for external students. There are 10 modules in this course.  Each module contains a mixture of recorded lecture/s and case studies which you can work through in Moodle at your own pace over 10 weeks. There will be a discussion forum available for each module, which you can use to post any issues raised in the readings, the lectures or case studies during the course. The discussion forums will be supported by SPHCM academic staff on weekdays.


Assessment Task 1 - Online Quiz
Weighting: 20%
Length: 20 Multiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 2 - Assignment (Outbreak Scenario)
Weighting: 40%
Length: multi-component questions, around 2000 words in total

Assessment Task 3 - Assignment (Report)
Weighting: 40%
Length: multi-component questions, around 2000 words in total

Readings and resources

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  1. Course notes and readings
  2. Lectures slides (posted in Moodle)
  3. Lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  4. Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts (available in Moodle)



Abrar Chughtai

Dr Abrar Chughtai

Lecturer, School of Public Health & Community Medicine

Dr Abrar is a Lecturer in International Health in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales. He is co-director of Master of Infectious Diseases Intelligence program in the School. He has a medical degree and a PhD in the prevention and control of infectious diseases. He has more than 15 years’ experience in the health sector with governmental, non-governmental and international health organisations. Dr Abrar has substantial experience of public health programs, having worked in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Tuberculosis Control Programs for many years. He had been involved in humanitarian work in the past during health emergencies and natural disasters. His research interests include infectious diseases epidemiology and control, vaccine preventable diseases and surveillance. His most important research contributions have been to examine the role of personal protective equipment and other infection control practices in resource limited settings. He has over 60 publications in peer-reviewed journals during last 5 years.


Image - Dr David Muscatello


Dr David Muscatello

Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health & Community Medicine

Dr David Muscatello is a Senior Lecturer at the School. He has a PhD in the epidemiology of influenza. He also has many years experience in government as an epidemiologist specialising in acute disease surveillance using administrative databases, public health intelligence and biostatistics including time series analysis. He played a major surveillance role in the New South Wales government response to pandemic influenza in 2009 and has served on the Australian National Influenza Surveillance Committee. David is also a graduate of the New South Wales Public Health Officer Training Program and has supervised and trained numerous Public Health Officer and Biostatistical trainees.


Image - Professor Raina MacIntyre


Professor Raina MacIntyre

Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology

Professor Raina MacIntyre is NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Professor of Global Biosecurity and PLuS Alliance Fellow. She heads the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute. She is best known for research in the transmission dynamics and prevention of infectious diseases, particularly respiratory pathogens such as influenza. She has led the largest body of research internationally on face masks and respirators in health care workers. She has done research on using risk-analysis methods for bioterrorism, and for analysing emerging infectious diseases outbreaks such as MERS-CoV. She is a leader in adult vaccination with a focus on the elderly. She also has an interest in the ethics of medicine, and specifically in dual-use research of concern. She leads a NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence immunisation for high risk populations and won the 2014 PHAA National Immunisation Award. Prof MacIntyre has over 300 publications in peer-reviewed journals. Her research is underpinned by extensive field outbreak investigation experience. Her in-depth understanding of the science of outbreak investigation draws from this experience combined with her academic training through a Masters and PhD in Epidemiology. Her passion for field epidemiology led her to co-found the ARM network for Australian outbreak response.