Contact FutureLearn for Support Influenza - Free online course Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
Watch the trailer
Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsThe first World War killed around 16 million people across the globe. Nearly half of them civilians. But just as that was drawing to a close, an even greater catastrophe occurred. An extremely virulent form of influenza began to spread around the world. Within two years, at least 40 million people had died of this disease, and possibly as many as 100 million. That's over five times as many as had been killed as a result of the war. My name is Derek Gatherer, and I'm going to be your guide through the material we will be covering in this course all about influenza. Or as most of us call it, the flu.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds For those of us who live in the colder parts of the world, one of the ways we notice that winter is approaching is that people start sneezing. Many people will be convinced that they've caught the flu, but at least in the early part of the winter, that won't be the case. The flu doesn't usually arrive in the colder parts of the northern hemisphere until about Christmas time or January. For those who live in the southern hemisphere, you will see the flu arriving around July. This is what we call seasonal influenza. In recent decades, we've had the option of vaccination against seasonal flu. And flu vaccination will be one of the topics we'll look at in more detail.

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsFrom time to time, a pandemic flu strain will appear. That's an outbreak that has global coverage. Like the flu outbreak of 1918, but perhaps less severe. Where pandemics come from, and how they change and seasonal flus, in other words, how the flu virus evolves, will be one of our main topics in the course. As well as studying the public health aspects of influenza, we will be looking in some detail of the virus itself. its structure, its life cycle, and many other aspects of its basic biology. And by learning about flu viruses, you will acquire a body of knowledge that will also help your general understanding of other viral diseases. Things like AIDS, Ebola, measles, rabies, and polio.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds These viruses together kill several million people across the world every year. So viruses are important to all of us, and they're likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Whether you're a health professional, a student of biology, or an interested member of the public, this course I hope will contain something of interest to you. So I look forward to joining you on this Lancaster University course for influenza.

About the course

Influenza is a disease that strikes in two forms. Seasonal influenza returns each winter, killing up to half a million people in bad years and causing much misery. Pandemic influenza, by contrast, is rare - having occurred only a handful of times in the last century - and far worse than seasonal flu, often killing many millions across the world. The worst pandemic of all, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, killed over twice as many people as the First World War - some estimates are even higher.

Since 1918, our understanding of influenza virus has come a long way. We can now trace how the pandemics of the last hundred years originated in bird flu and swine flu, and we can model the evolution of the virus from year to year, aiding vaccine design. We also have some anti-viral drugs that can be used in emergencies, and we understand more about how flu is transmitted and possible ways to prevent its spread.

In this free online course, we will cover everything from the history of influenza to modern laboratory diagnostics and vaccination. You’ll learn about the annual cycle that brings seasonal flu to our shores every winter, and also how avian and pig flus can contribute to the emergence of new pandemic strains of flu.

We’ll also look at the structure of the virus in more detail, seeing how the study of influenza is now carried out at the molecular level.

As well as mini-lectures, there will be laboratory demonstrations, interviews with experts in a variety of relevant fields, and discussion sessions, where you’ll be invited to contribute your own experiences and opinions to the subject of flu, and how we should treat and prevent it.

You can find out more in Dr Derek Gatherer’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “Do I have the flu? And 5 more common questions about influenza”.


The course is suitable for anyone with a general interest in health and disease - from school students to health professionals.

Derek and his team won’t be available to answer questions or respond to your comments during this course. However, we strongly encourage you to interact and support each other by posting your thoughts and comments and sharing your knowledge with other participants.

We hope that you will enjoy this course.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £49.00

Statement of Participation £24.00