An Introduction to Infectious Diseases

Course No. 1511
Professor Barry C. Fox, M.D.
University of Wisconsin
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Course No. 1511
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What Will You Learn?

  • Learn about various types of infectious diseases, both viral and bacterial.
  • Study how vaccines and antibiotics protect us from the onslaught of germs in daily life.
  • Learn how diseases spread through food, animals, the air, and between people.
  • Learn about realistic pandemics, the potential for future threats, and what you really need to worry about.

Course Overview

Infectious diseases touch the lives of everyone on the planet. On a worldwide scale, infectious diseases account for 26% of all deaths, second only to cardiovascular diseases. And unlike chronic diseases, infectious diseases are unique in their potential for explosive global impacts.

In fact, infectious diseases have shaped the course of human events numerous times:

  • The fall of the Roman Empire: Malaria may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Romans were used to the non-fatal strain of vivax malaria, but later encountered a new mosquito species that brought the deadly falciparum malaria form.
  • World War I: Tuberculosis was so rampant in the French army that 150,000 troops were sent home. In total, the countries involved in WWI lost over a million citizens to TB.
  • World War II: Many battles in the South Pacific between U.S. and Japanese armies were solely for the purpose of securing islands that supported the growth of quinine—the first and most important antimalarial compound at the time. More soldiers died in the South Pacific from malaria than actual combat!

Now, in the 24 engaging lectures of An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, you can get a comprehensive overview of diseases from the mundane to the fatal with renowned physician and award-winning professor Dr. Barry Fox of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Stepping into Dr. Fox’s classroom will give you unparalleled access to a physician who has dedicated his career to this topic, providing the most reliable, clear, in-depth and up-to-date information.

Zoom in to the Microscopic World

First and foremost, understanding infectious disease requires an overview of the microscopic particles responsible for them: bacteria, viruses, hybrid germs, and fungi. You will:

  • see how various types of infectious diseases invade the body;
  • look through the microscope at pathogens to identify their inner components;
  • follow germs through to different body systems and see what effects they have; and
  • learn why we may be losing the battle against some germs.

One particularly fascinating facet of this course is its focus on history. Step back in time and experience the world as the scientists and doctors of the day saw it.

  • Hippocrates Defies Tradition: The ancient Greeks believed that disease was caused either by miasma (bad air) or a punishment meted out by the gods. Hippocrates was imprisoned for daring to postulate his own theories. During his 20 years in prison, he wrote The Complicated Body, which set a course for the future of modern medicine.
  • Fathers of Microbiology: Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who started his career examining fabric in a dry goods store, honed the power of magnifying lenses and eventually discovered bacteria in 1674. Robert Hooke improved upon the design of the microscope, confirmed van Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries, and coined the word “cell.”
  • Germ Theory of Disease: The miasma theory of disease held sway for centuries, until scientists like Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur were able to prove that microorganisms were responsible for infectious disease. Koch’s four postulates set the standard for proof of infectivity up to the present day, and Pasteur’s contributions to science were so monumental that he was declared a national hero.
  • Technological Discoveries: With each discovery, from the electron microscope to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic technology, witness the progress that scientists are making in the field of infectious diseases every decade.

Dr. Fox’s enthusiasm for teaching science comes through in the stories he tells about each of the major discoveries—and stumbling blocks—in the study and treatment of infectious disease.

Preventing Infectious Disease in Your Daily Life

When it comes to preventing infectious disease, knowledge is power. In the popular media, the subjects of infectious disease, vaccinations, and medications are fraught with misinformation and hyperbole. Dr. Fox cuts through the myths and provides a solidly scientific guide to keeping yourself and your loved ones as protected as possible from pathogens.

  • Vaccinations: Vaccines are the single safest medical procedure for you, your children, and your grandchildren. Dr. Fox devotes an entire lecture to explaining how vaccines work, debunking popular myths, and explaining how herd immunity works—and when it doesn’t.
  • Healthy Habits: Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 24 seconds eliminates the vast majority of harmful organisms. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective, but not against norovirus (so if you’re on a cruise, wash your hands!). Other simple habits like leaving your shoes at the door and putting the lid down on the toilet before you flush can help keep your home healthy.
  • Travel Preparations: Your primary care physician is actually not the best person to consult before you travel abroad. A travel clinic can help you determine which medications to pack, any precautions you need to take regarding food and drink, and any boosters or new vaccines you may need.

A Global Responsibility

Globalization has added yet another factor to the study and prevention of infectious disease. Before the advent of accessible world travel, an epidemic could only spread locally—but now, one could spread worldwide in a matter of days. We saw this firsthand when the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was carried to the United States via air travel.

Dr. Fox acknowledges the gravity of such an outbreak and reviews probable scenarios in the final lecture, inviting you to apply your knowledge and help him predict the next pandemic.

About 50% of prescribed antibiotics are used incorrectly or unnecessarily. Dr. Fox identifies exactly which infections will benefit from antibiotics and which will resolve with other treatments. Responsible antibiotic use today ensures that the next generation can benefit from these indispensable drugs.

A Trusted Professional Resource

Throughout these 24 information-packed lectures, Dr. Fox delivers clear and up-to-date information on dozens of infectious diseases. As a practicing physician in the field of infectious diseases, he is the ultimate authority on this topic—and you will have him “on demand” as a personal resource in this engaging course.

Whether you have a love for biology, a curiosity about the world’s many infectious diseases, or a certain amount of trepidation about what the future holds, you will enjoy Dr. Fox’s impeccable bedside manner, insider knowledge, and humorous personal stories. And most importantly, you will be empowered to make the best choices for yourself, your loved ones, and future generations.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Dynamic World of Infectious Disease
    Dive into the fascinating stories behind three notorious diseases: bubonic plague, malaria, and polio. See how scientists of the time were able to discover the causes of these diseases and develop effective treatments. Also, learn why infectious diseases are still a pressing issue for our society, despite our advances in science and technology. x
  • 2
    Bacteria: Heroes and Villains
    Start your study of the basic elements of germ theory with bacteria. Once you've inspected the anatomy of a bacterium cell and its function, explore how bacteria can cause disease and how they can adapt to make themselves elusive to your immune system. Then, investigate three diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. x
  • 3
    Viruses: Hijackers of Your Body's Cells
    Zoom in to see a particle 100 times smaller than bacteria: the virus, which can replicate inside living cells. Follow the life cycle of a virus as you see what viruses like HIV and Ebola do to host cells. Meet two germs that fall between bacteria and viruses - the spirochete and rickettsia. x
  • 4
    Moldy Menaces and Fungal Diseases
    Although fungal diseases usually don't involve humans, they can indirectly affect us, and they have played a major role in human history. Investigate diverse infections that can be acquired when you come into contact with mold or fungus - sometimes by raking or blowing rotting leaves! Also learn whether or not you should have your household duct system cleaned regularly. x
  • 5
    Milestones in Infectious Disease History
    Where would we be without the scientists that brought to life the inventions and discoveries that are the foundations of modern medicine? In this lecture, meet some of the people who developed the tools to identify microorganisms, the means to pinpoint the source of a disease, the vaccinations to prevent them, and the drugs to treat them. x
  • 6
    Antibiotics: A Modern Miracle Lost?
    Trace the history of antibiotic development and explore how the eight classes of antibiotics attack bacterial infections. Gain an introduction to the increasingly important concern of antibiotic resistance, and learn how you can contribute to the more prudent use of antibiotics. x
  • 7
    Which Germs in Your Daily Life Matter?
    Microbes are all around us - the question is "What do we have to worry about?" From airplanes to restaurants, hotel rooms to your master bathroom, learn how you can protect yourself from germs without becoming totally obsessed with them. Is there any truth to the Five Second Rule? Find out in this lecture. x
  • 8
    Six Decades of Infectious Disease Challenges
    Track the history of infectious diseases decade by decade: the easily cured childhood illnesses of the 50s, the diseases spread by risky behaviors in the 60s, and the outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in the late 70s, followed by the tragedies of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, in the 80s and 90s. x
  • 9
    Vaccines Save Lives
    From routine childhood vaccinations to the experimental vaccines given to Ebola patients in Africa and the United States, vaccines have a powerful effect on public health. Learn the facts about the four different types of vaccines and their components, and discover why the concept of herd immunity is critical to public health. x
  • 10
    The Immune System: Our Great Protector
    Take a closer look at the intricate components of your body that try to protect you from dangerous infectious diseases. Then, explore immunosenescence - the changes in your immune system as you age - and learn proven ways to keep your immune system strong and prevent illness. x
  • 11
    Zoonosis: Germs Leap from Animals to Humans
    Seventy percent of infectious diseases originate from wildlife. Why are new diseases - such as bird flu and swine flu - so prevalent, and how are these exotic diseases being transmitted from animals to humans? Learn how to protect yourself from these diseases, including two you can get from your cat. x
  • 12
    Tick-Borne Diseases: A Public Health Menace
    These small ectoparasites have emerged in force and have created a new public health crisis. Discover why tick-borne diseases are so easy to contract but difficult to diagnose, and get the facts about Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. x
  • 13
    Food-Borne Illness: What's Your Gut Feeling?
    From traveler's diarrhea to food poisoning, explore a myriad of illnesses that can enter the body through the food you eat. Gain an awareness of a severe bacterial infection that is on the rise in hospitals, particularly in patients over age 65. x
  • 14
    Respiratory and Brain Infections
    Turn now to severe respiratory and central nervous system illnesses that may have deadly consequences. Zoom in to the cellular level to see how complicated these infections can be, and how deadly pneumonia and bacterial meningitis can become. Learn to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia and meningitis, and when to seek medical attention. x
  • 15
    Flesh-Eating Bacteria and Blood Poisoning
    Continue your study of the body with infections that affect the skin and bloodstream, including the powerful sepsis infection, which is responsible for 10% of deaths in the United States. Get the facts on necrotizing fasciitis, or "flesh-eating bacteria," and travel back 40 years to follow the evolution of the resistant bacteria MRSA. x
  • 16
    STDs and Other Infections below the Belt
    Begin this lecture with a fascinating story of a twist of fate in 1951 that turned out to be one of the most important developments in medical history. Then, study infections that attack the urinary tract and pelvic organs, and learn more about the wide range of sexually transmitted diseases. x
  • 17
    Stay Out of the Hospital!
    Go behind the scenes at a hospital, and unveil the truth: what is perceived as a pristine and sterile environment is really bustling with all kinds of germs. Discover why some hospitals forbid their doctors to wear white coats and wedding rings, and learn what you can do to protect yourself if you must be hospitalized. x
  • 18
    The Nemesis of Mankind: HIV and AIDS
    More than three decades after the first cases of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) were reported, the global health community is still dealing with a pandemic of 33 million infected people, of which about 3 million are children. Learn the scientific facts behind this virus and why it is so difficult to find a vaccine or cure. x
  • 19
    Malaria and Tuberculosis: Global Killers
    In spite of a multitude of global efforts to decrease their mortality rates, these two ancient diseases are still the deadliest in the world. Go beyond vaccines and mosquito netting and see the innovative experiments being conducted in an attempt to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. x
  • 20
    Global Travel, War, and Natural Disasters
    Witness the toll infectious diseases take on populations during times of war and natural disasters, using examples from Napoleon's armies to modern-day Syria. Then, learn why your personal physician isn't the best person to talk to about risks when you're about to embark on foreign travel. x
  • 21
    Influenza: Past and Future Threat
    Despite being a common disease, the flu is responsible for some of the deadliest pandemics of all time. Explore two important biological aspects of influenza - antigenic drift and antigenic shift - to understand why changes in viruses can have such a huge impact on disease prevalence. x
  • 22
    Bioterrorism: How Worried Should We Be?
    Explore the three scenarios that pose the greatest threats in a bioterrorism attack: an airborne agent like anthrax, a smallpox attack, and a release of botulinum toxin in cold drinks. Understand the steps that the CDC takes to protect the public and what you can do as an average citizen. x
  • 23
    Emerging and Reemerging Diseases
    The outbreak of Ebola in 2014 in West Africa became an international crisis in a matter of weeks - even traveling across the ocean to the United States. Explore deadly emerging and reemerging diseases that continually challenge our detection and response abilities. x
  • 24
    Outbreak! Contagion! The Next Pandemic!
    Using your newly acquired infectious disease knowledge, look into the future and discern what the next pandemic might be - one that would reach all continents quickly, be difficult to treat, be extremely deadly, and perhaps threaten the very survival of the human race! x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
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  • 224-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Barry C. Fox

About Your Professor

Barry C. Fox, M.D.
University of Wisconsin
Dr. Barry Fox is a Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He currently practices in clinical infectious disease at two hospitals and a long-term care facility. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University. He is board certified in both Internal Medicine...
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An Introduction to Infectious Diseases is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 33.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highlights are great. I am very happy about selection of this course. It has been an educational journey. My increased awareness of so many potential dangers in my environment has made me safer. I have always been exposed to infectious diseases due to my work. This course provides an excellent education background, to prevent catastrophic illnesses. The professor teaches excellent prevention and solutions . I enjoyed this course very much.
Date published: 2020-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Introduction to Infectious Diseases This is probably our 40th Great Courses presentation. We find it interesting and relevant. When you comment to each other, "I didn't know that," with most classes, it is worthwhile to see. Both my husband and I have science backgrounds and followed along nicely. My greatest problem - in lecture 24 why did he use a photograph of common river otters instead of ferrets!
Date published: 2020-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Goose bumps and chills. I am not a fan of horror movies, but I do enjoy the crafting of the better ones. Nosferatu and Dracula springs to mind. Great Courses Infectious Diseases had a similar effect on the psyche and is compelling to watch. In the movies we have the slow build up. The feminine victim retires to bed, soon blissfully asleep. The ghastly Count will manifest in the poor girls bedroom moving his tongue in delicious anticipation over his enormously elongated canines. Just as the infected diseased human retires for the night, not knowing what ghastly specter awaits. Count Bacillus or Duke Virus. The good Doctor presents the facts like bullets sprayed at you from a Thompson sub machine gun, signs and symptoms follow (the slow build up) . And then the coup de grace, - oh by the way, this is what you look like when the Bacteria (or virus ) is finished with you. Great pictures and anecdotes Doc. If you are a germaphobe you might want to wear your blue mask and rubber gloves while sitting in your comfy chair with a coffee and 2 Tylenols on the side while taking this class. It’s as comforting as an asteroid on a collision path with planet Earth. When you consider antibiotic resistance. I highly recommend this course for Your Educational Horrification.
Date published: 2019-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the best course on the subject that I have ever had. I have an MD and practiced medicine for 32 years but this area of medicine changes so fast. This is an EXCELLENT course for all in the medical field, nurses, clinicians, medical technology, public health. I have purchased a second copy for my daughter in Public Health so she can study it and take it to her county Public Health offices so the staff can study it as continuing education.
Date published: 2019-06-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disk 4 would not play Bought this several months ago and have just recently being watching the couse. Unfortunately disk # 4 does not platy and is not recognized as a DVD in either a DVD palyer or a computer. Quality control issue.
Date published: 2019-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good subject, but boring Very thorough and knowledgeable but very monotonous and boring as the speaker is obviously reading a script or using the teleprompter. I prefer presentations that are more natural sounding and offer some emotion.
Date published: 2018-10-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Reading from script? I have listened to many Great Course courses (audio usually) and this is the first one where I thought the presentation bad. It sounds like the professor is reading from a script or teleprompter. His speaking doesn't sound natural and he mostly seems unexcited. He is reading complete sentences with no mid-sentence words changes, uh's, or other indications of natural speech. While not necessarily a bad thing (there is audible books after all) for this professor it isn't working for me and I'm having trouble with losing the thread as I'm not drawn in. Small mistakes aren't bad, necessarily and perfect script reading can be.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, Helpful Info Great perspective on infectious-disease issues. This fine, professionally excellent gentleman has overwhelmingly impressive command of his subject. I feel significantly well informed about how to judge media reporting about the degrees of risk which various world-health media reporting makes me think about. The whole topic is complex, subtle and of vast significance. Thanks, so much, Prof Fox for your balanced, thoughtful, articulate and brilliant perspectives on this intriguiing complex topic. BRAVISSIMO!!! shccs
Date published: 2017-12-09
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