As the agents that cause infectious diseases, microbes
are featured prominently in Epidemic!. Pictures, text panels,
and colorful three-dimensional models of various microbes appear throughout
the exhibition. One important message, however, is that most microbes
are not harmful; in fact, some are necessary for human health. Microbes
are present in our environment and in our bodies at all times, and most
of them are not going to make us sick. Sometimes certain ecological changes
allow normally harmless microbes to become pathogenic, but microbes themselves
have many benign functions.
Other important components of the exhibition include a section on infection,
which explains how pathogenic microbes can enter the human body, how
the immune system works to resist them, and how harmful microbes eventually
leave the body. The exhibit section "Epidemic to Pandemic" investigates
the ways in which urbanization, war, travel technology, and changes in
the environment can cause the spread of infectious disease.
Not long ago, doctors thought they had conquered all germs. There were
sophisticated microscopes to study them and powerful drugs to destroy
them. But as this exhibition demonstrates, microbes--like all organisms--are
constantly evolving, adapting, and changing their structure. That is
why, despite tremendous advances in medicine, we have yet to discover
the cure for the common cold, and why we should avoid the inappropriate
use of antibiotics.
Other more dangerous diseases, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and
AIDS, are major problems right here in San Diego. The conclusion of the
exhibition presents practical information about how to avoid infection
and prevent the spread of infectious disease, infusing a positive note
of hope and empowerment. A resource area provides literature and websites
to delve deeper into this fascinating world.
The exhibition is divided into the following sections:
1. The Prologue
Through a short video, this introduction sets the stage for concepts to
come, emphasizing the importance of understanding the natural history of
infectious disease and learning how different cultures view and respond
2. Understanding Ecology
Hantavirus is an excellent example of how ecological change plays a role
in outbreaks of infectious disease. In 1993, an increase in annual
rainfall and a subsequent rise in the population of deer mice in the
southwestern United States caused a hantavirus outbreak, because mice
carry the virus and pass it to humans in aerosol form through their
droppings. Through a diorama and video, learn how a natural history
perspective enabled health officials to understand and contain the
outbreak quickly and effectively.
3. Ecological Change and Evolution
This section highlights malaria in order to illustrate the dynamic competition
between humans and microbes as they evolve and adapt to survive. Since
microbes evolve much more rapidly than humans do, we need to develop
ways to prevent infection. In the case of malaria, plant extracts prevent
parasite infection, and protective clothing and mosquito nets help
avoid mosquito bites. In places where malaria has been a problem for
many years, some people have inherited genetic traits that make them
less susceptible to the disease. Unfortunately, this genetic change
can also cause another disease, sickle cell anemia.
Here an array of colorful, three-dimensional models shows the astounding
diversity of microbial life. Microbes are divided into viruses, bacteria,
protists, fungi, and helminthes (worms). Learn about the different
characteristics of these five types of microorganisms. Gain a better
understanding of the natural history of microbes, and the ways in which
many of them are beneficial.
5. The Study of Microbes
In this lab area with microscopes for hands-on discovery, learn how in
1674 Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek was the first to see a living microbe,
using a magnifying glass. It wasnÕt until about 200 years later that
another scientist, Louis Pasteur, realized that microbes could also
be responsible for disease. Scientists in this century continue the
discoveries with electron microscopes that magnify objects hundreds
of thousands of times. Other techniques enable scientists to take microbes
apart to understand their inner workings, and the newest methods involve
examining the microbesÕ genetic sequence. The end of this section examines
some of the other challenges in controlling infectious diseases, such
as poverty, war, and resistance to antibiotics.
where, and when do humans and microbes meet? This section shows several
ways that microbes can enter the human body and illustrates ways the
body protects itself. Discover the roles of macrophages, T cells, B cells,
and memory cells. Identify parts of the body that play a role in defense.
Discover how antibiotics and medicines work, and the purpose of a vaccine.
Two dioramas in this section show HIV taking hold of a human T cell,
and E. coli 0157:H7 in the intestines. Learn what is happening
between the microbes and body defenses, and play a game in which one
person takes the role of an invading microbe and the other the immune
7. Outbreak: Infection in a Local
Learn what an epidemiologist does to trace an outbreak. Find out how
an infectious disease can spread through a population through contaminated
water, food, and blood; through aerosols emitted from coughing and sneezing;
through sexual contact; and through vectors (living creatures like mosquitoes
and squirrels that transmit the disease by contact with people). Through
an interactive display, play the role of an epidemiologist and investigate
a mystery disease outbreak.
8. Epidemic to Pandemic: Global Spread
of Infectious Disease
An epidemic is an outbreak of an acute illness that infects numerous
individuals in a population by spreading rapidly among many people at
the same time. When epidemics spread to diverse regions of the world,
a pandemic results. In todayÕs global society, how do trade, travel,
war, climate, and urbanization affect the spread of infectious disease?
This section features a short video with newscasts from epidemics around
the world, with maps highlighting regions where epidemics occur.
9. Taking Action: Individual, Community,
and Global Solutions
This resource area of the exhibition focuses on success stories in the
efforts to control infectious disease on the individual, community, and
global levels. Through objects, text panels, photographs, and interactive
displays, learn how to protect yourself from infectious disease, how
to get help if you need it, and how to help others. Trained exhibit interpreters
will guide you to brochures, websites, and additional resources.
Diseases in San Diego and Baja California: Past and Present
Go back 100 years in time and see how epidemics such as smallpox, influenza,
and tuberculosis affected the San Diego area, including how Balboa Park
was transformed during wartime to deal with infectious disease. Then
get a dose of reality with the current epidemics facing San Diego and
Baja California such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C. Learn
what we can do to fight and prevent diseases, individually and as a community,
and where to go to get proper assistance.
Giardia Banner microbe: Giardia
intestinalis (protozoan causing diarrhea)
Others: Borrelia burgdorferi (the spirochete causing Lyme disease)
and HIV (virus causing AIDS)
from the American
Museum of Natural History Epidemic! exhibition
Epidemic! was created by the American
Museum of Natural History with the support of Bristol-Myers Squibb
Company. The San Diego exhibition is made possible by a generous title
sponsorship from Alliance Healthcare Foundation, with a matching grant
from The California Endowment, and generous support from additional sponsors