2 December 2014 09:37

Lancaster University is launching an online course on the Ebola virus in response to the largest ever outbreak of the disease.

The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is now open for registration on FutureLearn, which provides free online courses from world-class universities.

The course entitled “Ebola: Symptoms, History and Origins” is designed for the general public wishing to know more about the background to the virus and will examine its rapid spread in West Africa.

The MOOC is a general introduction to the disease, its cause, its past, and possibly its future. It is a crash course in the essentials of understanding Ebola virus and what has been happening in West Africa since early 2014.

Dr Derek Gatherer from the Faculty of Health and Medicine, said:  “Ebola is a current and very emotive public health emergency, and one of the aims of our course is to demystify the disease for the general public and set out the facts. We also want to engage with and encourage new students who think that a career in biology or medicine might be for them.”

The course will cover basic virology, symptoms, epidemiology and the story of the current outbreak, origins and evolution, drugs and vaccines, and public health measures.

Learners will have the opportunity to do some analysis on the Ebola virus using freely available software, and learn how to calculate rates of increase and use a web diagnosis tool to show how difficult the disease is to diagnose.

Other contributors include an epidemiologist and an anthropologist who has lived and worked in Liberia.

FutureLearn’s Head of Content, Nigel Smith, said: “It demonstrates the ability of massive open online courses to meet the needs of learners while responding to fast-moving current events.”

Dr Gatherer said: “We aim to give a comprehensive introduction to Ebola virus, including the basic virology, clinical aspects, public health, the experimental drugs and vaccines that are being tested, and the origins and evolution of the virus.  So whether the learner has a specific area of interest or just wants to learn more about Ebola virus in general, this course will contain something for everyone.”

While people interested in the course can sign up now, the course will begin early next year.