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Infectious diseases hardly ever disappear from the headlines — swine flu is only the last in a long list containing SARS, bird flu, HIV, and childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. If it's not the disease itself that hits the news, then it's the vaccines with their potential side effects. It can be hard to tell the difference between scare mongering and responsible reporting, because media coverage rarely provides a look behind the scenes. How do scientists reach the conclusions they do? How do they predict how a particular disease will spread, and whether it is likely to mutate into a more dangerous strand? And how do they assess the impact of an intervention like vaccination, and make sure that a vaccine is safe?
The five articles listed below, together with the podcast, provide some answers to these questions. If you're a teacher exploring the maths of epidemiology with your students, then have a look at our classroom activity, accompanying the articles. And whoever you are, we'd like to find out what kind of information you found the most useful during the current swine flu outbreak — so please take part in our quick online poll.