Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World: NMNH

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Some sources of zoonotic diseases

Rousettus aegyptiacus
Egyptian rousette bat
Peromyscus maniculatus
Deer Mouse
Macaca mulatta
Rhesus Macaque

What causes disease outbreaks? How can we stop them?

Our world is more interconnected than ever before—by global travel and trade, by technology, and even by our viruses.

When people move into or change an environment, pathogens—microbes that cause illness—can “jump” from wildlife to humans and cause disease outbreaks that spread internationally. Tracking down and responding to outbreaks requires coordinated detective work from people in many professions.

This 4,250-square-foot exhibition invites visitors to join epidemiologists, veterinarians, public health workers, and citizens of all ages and origins as they rush to identify and contain infectious disease outbreaks. Case studies of HIV/AIDS, Ebola virus, and influenza highlight the social and emotional fallout of outbreaks—for victims, their loved ones, and society overall. Objects from both the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of American History collections illustrate the scientific and cultural impact of epidemics.


  • A teal duck specimen used to help identify the pathogen behind the 1918 influenza epidemic
  • A scrapbook memorializing Ryan White, a teenager who died from AIDS in 1990, compiled by his mother, Jeanne White-Ginder
  • A giant replica of an Aedes mosquito, the type responsible for carrying Zika virus


  • Learn how to think like an epidemiologist—find the connections between human, animal, and environmental health in an interactive simulation.
  • Reflect on personal memories and photos from disease survivors and frontline healthcare workers.
  • Work cooperatively with other visitors to contain an outbreak before it spreads further in a multi-player game.

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of our donors.

  • Ending Pandemics
  • Johnson & Johnson Innovation
  • Lyda Hill
  • Open Philanthropy Project
  • The Rockefeller Foundation
  • Sanofi Pasteur
  • Seqirus, A CSL Company
  • The Anders Foundation
  • Biotechnology Innovation Organization
  • The Infectious Diseases Society of America
  • National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health
  • RTI International
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Special thanks to everyone who contributed their expertise to this exhibition.

  • Dr. Jonathan Epstein
  • Dr. Daniel Lucey
  • American Society for Microbiology
  • District of Columbia Department of Health
  • EcoHealth Alliance
  • HealthMap at Boston Children’s Hospital
  • HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
  • Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
  • Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
  • ProMED/International Society for Infectious Diseases
  • Public Health Foundation
  • U.S. Agency for International Development and the PREDICT Consortium
  • U.S. Department of State
  • World Organisation for Animal Health
  • World Health Organization

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