Influenza or “flu” is caused by the influenza virus, and infection with this virus can sometimes be fatal. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from seasonal flu. A flu pandemic occurs when a new type of influenza virus is introduced to humans from animals and eventually spreads globally.

This activity is a good introduction to 'The drugs do work'.

However, if this activity is being carried out as a standalone activity, the Summer Science exhibit video "influenza pandemic" would also be good to show as part of this activity (otherwise it can be shown as part of 'The drugs do work' activity).

Option 1: Print out a copy of the worksheet for each student and ask them to fill it in. Point out that in reality the H and N molecules have a complex 3D structure unlike the cartoons on the worksheet. There is a black and white version of the worksheet here.

Option 2: Per student (or small group) you will need: 1 orange, several cocktail sticks, two sorts of jelly sweets that come in different colours (eg jelly babies, jelly beans, jelly tots). In order for this analogy to be taken further, you need to imagine that the different coloured sweets have a slightly different structure so the immune system does not recognise a different colour sweet as a molecule it has seen before.

Curriculum links


Organisms and health

In their study of science, the following should be covered:

5a. organisms are interdependent and adapted to their environments
5b. variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes and similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified


Scottish Curriculum

Science - Curriculum for Excellence level 4 SCN 4-14c Body systems and cells - Inheritance: I can use my understanding of how characteristics are inherited to solve simple genetic problems and relate this to my understanding of DNA, genes and chromosomes.
Biology National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Multicellular organisms (health), Life on Earth (if adaptation is part of competition)
Science National 4 Potentially relevant to modules: Human health (threats to health)
Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules: DNA and the Genome (gene expression),
Human Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules: Immunology and Public health (immune system, control of infectious diseases, vaccination, public health policy)


H-what N-who? - How are viruses named?

flu diagram_300There are two main types of flu viruses called Type A and Type B. Both types can infect humans. It is type A that can change its characteristics drastically and cause pandemics. This activity explains how the different subtypes of influenza are named, for example 'H1N1'.


Download the worksheet here.

Option 1: Read the background information about the structure of the influenza virus and then draw three different subtypes.

Option 2: Read the background information about the structure of the influenza virus and use the same worksheet but instead of drawing use the following objects to represent the virus particle:

Use an orange to represent the virus particle.

Use the larger jelly sweets (eg jelly babies) to represent the haemagglutinin (H) molecules and assign a different colour to each type of haemagglutinin molecule (eg red for H1, green for H2 etc).

Use the smaller jelly sweets (eg jelly tots) to represent the neuraminidase (N) molecules and assign a different colour to each type of neuraminidase molecule (eg red for N1, green for N2 etc).

Using the cocktail sticks, attach the sweets to the surface of the orange to make the different virus subtypes listed on the worksheet - here's a photo of what they might look like!

3 Virus 2_500