Prompted by the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and heightened by the Zika epidemic shortly following, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History developed exhibit called Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World (Outbreak)to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic. This exhibit, which launched in May of 2018 in Washington DC, also has a supplementary “mobile” version, which is also known as the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) version of the exhibit, which is available to people around the world, to bring this exhibit to their country and region.

What is the exhibit about?

Outbreak examines the ways in which infectious diseases reveal intricate networks between humans, animals, their environments, and microbes, and why infectious diseases emerge where they do, how they spill over from animals to people, why they spread so quickly, and where to look for the next one.  

Topics explored in the exhibit

  • One World, One Health. Animal, human and environmental health is integrally connected. As populations grow, we interact with animals and the environment in new ways that can cause disease outbreaks and epidemics. Factors that lend themselves to disease outbreaks include industrial farming, deforestation, poverty, conflict, and limited access to healthcare.
  • Where do Zoonotic diseases come from? Animals are reservoirs for infectious diseases. Bats, for example are particularly effective at spreading pathogens to humans. What is the solution? Eliminating certain animals would damage already delicate ecosystems, and many animals provide important benefits for humans in the form of companionship or food. Yes, zoonotic diseases are very common; more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.
  • We can Stop the Spread.  Poverty, conflict and limited access to healthcare increase a population’s vulnerability to an infectious disease outbreak. Reducing disease risks requires cooperation at the local, national and global levels. Communities are central to containing an outbreak.
  • Keeping antibiotics effective. How do microbes develop resistance to antimicrobials? How can we limit this resistance to keep antibiotics effective?
  • Stigma and Fighting Fear Infectious disease patients often face social stigma within their communities and by society. HIV/AIDS is one example. By increasing public awareness and education and reducing stigma, we can help patients and health practitioners contain infectious disease outbreaks more effectively.