School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Outbreak Investigation & Intelligence (PHCM9788)

This course is offered fully online in Term 2 2020 for both Face-to-face internal students, and distance 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.


Outbreak investigation is a central aspect of field epidemiology and infectious diseases intelligence and surveillance underpins 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 resource limited and developed 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 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 and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases will also be provided. Case studies include salmonella, E. coli, enterovirus, hepatitis, avian influenza, MERS coronavirus, and Ebola outbreaks.

Course aims

This course aims to give students the skills to interpret surveillance, disease intelligence and outbreak data, analyse epidemiological patterns, identify expected and aberrant patterns, and understand the principles of disease modelling in the context of field epidemiology, outbreak investigation and control.

Course learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course you will be able to:

  • Explain the role of disease surveillance and other intelligence in outbreak detection and investigation.
  • Describe best practice principles of outbreak investigations in diverse global settings. 
  • Analyse outbreak data and interpret diverse and aberrant epidemiological patterns of infectious disease outbreaks.
  • Demonstrate understanding of appropriate prevention and control measures for an outbreak response. 
  • Demonstrate understanding of modelling and forecasting of infectious diseases based on known transmission dynamics.
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.

Learning and teaching rationale

This course uses learning activities and assessment tasks that reflect the learning outcomes of the course and are drawn from real studies in order to support your learning of new concepts and the application of epidemiological techniques through practice, lectures, online discussions and scheduled webinars.

Teaching strategies

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 - First Quiz
Weighting: 10%
Length: 10 Multiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 2 - Outbreak Investigation Scenario
Weighting: 40%
Length: 10 questions of up to 250 words each 

Assessment Task 3 - Second Quiz
Weighting: 10%
Length: 10 Multiple Choice Questions

Assessment Task 4 - Multi-component Written Report
Weighting: 40%
Length: 4 pages plus references at the end

Readings and resources

This course uses the online learning environment to provide access to:

  1. The course outline and weekly modules with web links to required pre-readings and key resources
  2. Recorded lectures and PowerPoint slides
  3. Online case studies for external students
  4. Assessment tasks and submission of assessments

This text provides many of the compulsory course readings:

Rasmussen S.A. and Goodman R.A. (eds) (2019). The CDC Field Epidemiology Manual. New York: Oxford University Press.

It is freely available online at the CDC website

An eBook is also available in UNSW Library.

If you do want to purchase a hard copy, it is available from the UNSW Bookshop in person or online.



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.