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Content Benchmark L.8.B.5
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Students know disease can result from defects in body systems or from damage caused by infection.  E/S

Disease is defined as an unnatural or abnormal condition of the body as a result of a homeostatic imbalance caused by an infection or congenital genetic disorder (from 

Homeostasis literally translates to “a state of being the same.”  This is a slightly misleading translation because homeostasis is a dynamic process where the internal conditions of the body are most often oscillating around a set point.  When the mechanisms that maintain homeostatic conditions are disrupted by either environmental or genetic defects, the result is a disease state. 

Figure 1. Body Temperature Homeostasis.

Sickle cell anemia is a congenital genetic defect that is caused by a single base pair substitution at the DNA level.  The disorder is caused by problems during the process where the DNA message (from the mRNA) is used as a template to create a sequence of amino acids that eventually become proteins.  With sickle cell anemia, the point mutation in the DNA impacts the folding of the proteins.  A person with two sickle cell genes produces abnormal hemoglobin which results in the red blood cells having sickle shape instead of the typical “donut shape” (biconcave sphere).  The sickled cells cause problems with limited oxygen carrying capacity and have the potential to create “clogs” in the smaller blood vessels. 

sickled cell
Figure 2. Normal Red Blood Cells (right) and a Sickled Red Blood Cell (left).

For more information on sickle cell anemia and genetic mutations,
see MS TIPS Benchmark L.8.A.2

Sickle cell anemia is only one example of a genetic defect/mutation causing an imbalance of homeostasis.  In this instance, the cells of the body do not receive adequate oxygen and nutrient supply.  The body attempts to correct the imbalance in a variety of ways including an increase in both respiratory and heart rates.  Due to the clogged vessels and the reduced oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells, the homeostatic imbalance cannot correct itself, and it could eventually lead to very serious complications and even death.  Other examples of diseases caused by genetic mutations are cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, Marfan syndrome, and Huntington’s disease.

For more information on genetic disorders, visit the Your Genes, Your Health website which provides detailed information about the genetic disorders listed above. To access the site, go to

Diabetes is another example of a disease resulting from a homeostatic imbalance that can be attributed to either a genetic predisposition or potentially a viral infection (  In a normal healthy individual, blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are tightly controlled by the person’s endocrine system.  When blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released to increase cellular uptake and usage of the sugar.  When glucose levels fall, the liver releases the stored glucose.  In diabetes, a person’s blood sugar will rise beyond the normal limits and stay that way.  These persistently high levels of blood glucose result in health problems such as kidney failure, high blood pressure, and even heart problems.  There are two basic types of diabetes, Type I and Type II.

Figure 3. Illustration of Type 1 Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is believed to have either a genetic predisposition or a viral cause.  The viral cause is a result of the body’s immune system attacking the insulin receptors because they resemble a virus that the body has already combated.  With adult onset diabetes, or type 2 diabetes, some environmental cue causes a person’s insulin receptors to become less sensitive and therefore have an impact on the uptake of glucose out of the blood and into the cells.

Some viruses or bacteria can cause health concerns both in the short term and potentially long term if left untreated.  The body responds by issuing an immune response.  This immune response is how the body deals with both viral and bacterial infections.  What we think of, as the “disease” is actually the body’s response to the infection.  In an effort to prevent the spread of the micro-organism, the body will first activate non-specific defenses that will hopefully prevent the spread, and set the stage for the body’s specific killers to take action against the invader.
For example, when you contract the flu or a cold, your body will respond by creating excess mucus causing you to be “stuffy” this prevents the spread of the pathogen (foreign substance) and allows the body time to create its “army of soldiers” or lymphocytes. In addition to the excessive production of mucus, the body may also increase its core temperature.  This rise in body temperature (fever) is also a defense mechanism to cause potential damage to the foreign particles (viruses or bacteria).


Figure 4. The adenovirus is a virus normally associate with respiratory infections.

Treatment for these two sources of disease is quite different.  A bacterial infection occurs when a bacterial cell invades your body, finds a safe place, and then starts to rapidly divide. Most often, a bacterial infection is a result of the bacterial cells getting past your surface barriers such as your skin when you have a cut or scrape.  Once in, the bacteria start to divide and can lead to an infection.  Most of the time, your body successfully fends off the bacteria and you may not even notice any problems.  Sometimes, though, the bacteria replicates itself fast enough that it outpaces your defense systems, this is when you go to the physician’s office and receive a prescription for antibiotics.  Antibiotics are used only for bacterial infections as they interfere with functions that only bacteria perform.  Antibiotic resistance is a relatively recent problem resulting from the over prescription of antibiotics.   Due to the over use of commonly prescribed antibiotics, resistant strands of bacteria known as “super bugs” have evolved.

For more information on antibiotic resistant strands of bacteria, view the CDC’s website at

There are many examples of diseases caused by bacteria.  E. coli infection is one we often hear about in the news.  E. coli is short for Escherichia coli which is the name for a specific type of bacteria that infects our gastrointestinal tract causing irritation that results in severe diarrhea and vomiting.  The diarrhea and vomiting are our body’s way of attempting to rid the body of the bacteria.

Viruses, while also capable of infecting the body, are vastly different than bacteria, and cannot be treated with antibiotics. As mentioned above, diseases such as the common cold, flu, or even chicken pox are caused by viruses.  While scientists are researching ways of combating viruses, in most cases your physician will just suggest that you let the virus “run its course” allowing your body’s immune system to combat the invader. 

Some diseases such as malaria can be caused by pathogenic (disease causing) eukaryotes.  In such diseases, the human body plays host to part or all of another organism’s life cycle.  While you are infected with such a parasite, your body’s immune system, while attempting to combat the organism, is outpaced by the growth.  In addition, because the parasite infects living cells, once the parasite has invaded the cell, the immune system cannot combat the problem without causing destruction to it’s own cells.  Malaria is a disease that is typically contracted in tropical areas of the world as the vector is the mosquito. A vector is an organism that carries a disease causing pathogen. Organisms found in the family Plasmodium are parasitic protists that utilize humans and other animals as a source of energy and a safe place to replicate themselves.  When the Plasmodium eggs are injected by a mosquito into a human they find a safe place in the human’s liver.  It is there that the parasite begins replicating itself using the liver as a source of nutrients and energy.  Once it has reached a certain population size, it needs to find another host so the parasites enter the blood stream.  Once in the blood stream these organisms cause a whole host of problems due to the fact that the feed off of and destroy a person’s red blood cells.  However, if the parasite is floating in the blood stream, another mosquito can pick it up when biting the infected host. This initiates a whole new cycle as can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5.
  Plasmodium Life Cycle.

Fungi are multicelled organisms that also have the potential to cause disease.  A good example of this is the fungus that causes Athlete’s Foot.  Dermatophytes are a classification of fungi that like to grow in warm and damp places.  When a person comes into contact with the fungus, it attaches itself to the skin, and uses it as a source of nutrients.  While the symptoms may not be life threatening, the fungus will eventually infect farther than just the epidermis, and can cause painful ulcerations or sores.  This breach of the body’s outer defenses can open the individual up to other more serious infections

Figure 6. Dermatophyte: Multicellular fungus that causes Athlete’s Foot.

In summary, the above examples have been used to illustrate the ideas that the source of a disease may be one of several different causes.  However, each one of these sources results in an imbalance in the normal everyday operating procedures of the body.  We call this a homeostatic imbalance.

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Content Benchmark L.8.B.5

Students know disease can result from defects in body systems or from damage caused by infection.  E/S

Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark.

1. Students often incorrectly believe that viruses are the same as bacteria and that they can both be treated with antibiotics.

In fact, viruses and bacteria can cause disease, but they are not the same.  Viruses are merely protein shells containing some type of genetic material and maybe a few proteins that help it move into the target cell.  In contrast, bacteria are single-celled organisms that can cause disease, but are also very beneficial.  Antibiotics are designed to aid in the destruction of bacteria and are therefore useful in treating bacterial infections. Antibiotics cannot be utilized to treat viral infections.

Information about this misconception can be found by reading the linked article

2. Students incorrectly believe that they can contract the cold or flu by being out in the cold.

The idea that being in inclement weather one day and contracting a cold the next day is a misconception that is relatively persistent.  Colds or the flu are caused by viruses disrupting the normal working of the cell and our bodies try to combat the disease by instituting immune defense systems such as increasing the core body temperature or causing an increase in mucus production to prevent the spread.

For more information on this misconception, visit

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Content Benchmark L.8.B.5

Students know disease can result from defects in body systems or from damage caused by infection.  E/S

Sample Test Questions

1st Item Specification: Understand the general ways that diseases are spread among organisms.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. The explanation that diseases are caused by microorganism is known as the
    1. cell theory.
    2. immune theory.
    3. germ theory.
    4. infection theory.
  1. Which of the following factors would NOT help you remain healthy?
    1. Wash your hands frequently
    2. Exercise several times a week
    3. Maintain a healthy diet
    4. Smoke tobacco regularly
  1. What is the first line of defense to prevent pathogens from entering the body?
    1. Red blood cells
    2. White blood cells
    3. Antigens
    4. Skin
  1. Individuals “catch a cold” because they
    1. were exposed to a virus.
    2. went to bed with wet hair.
    3. go outside without a jacket.
    4. swim in cold water.
  1. Which of the following microbe’s existence was confirmed with the invention of the electron microscope?
    1. Bacteria
    2. Protista
    3. Fungi
    4. Viruses

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Why was the invention of the electron microscope important in understanding infectious disease?
    1. Identifying pathogens is important to prevent and treat diseases.
    2. It allowed scientists to see bacteria and protists for the first time.
    3. Observing organisms gave scientists clues for developing antibiotics.
    4. It led to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  1. An outbreak of the influenza virus has occurred at a school. What is the best advice for the staff and students, which have contracted the flu, to reduce the spread of the virus?
    1. Immediately visit a doctor for a prescription of antibiotics.
    2. Remain at home until they no longer have symptoms.
    3. Wash their hands prior to eating lunch in the cafeteria.
    4. Take antibiotics from a previous illness until they can see a doctor. 

2nd Item Specification: Understand the general ways that disease affects individual organisms.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. A breakdown in the function of a living organism is
    1. vaccination.
    2. disease.
    3. immunity.
    4. medicine.
  1. Organisms that cause disease are
    1. pathogens.
    2. toxins.
    3. genetics.
    4. symptoms.
  1. Exposure to a weakened or mild form of a pathogen to produce immunity is a(n)
    1. fever.
    2. interferon.
    3. vaccine.
    4. antibiotic.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. A student became sick after sharing a drink with an infected classmate who did not show any symptoms of being sick. The infected classmate is most likely  
    1. a carrier for the disease.
    2. a vector for the disease.
    3. developed antibiotic resistance.
    4. maintains a healthy diet.     
  1. How do viruses cause damage to organisms?
    1. Release toxins as they carry out life processes
    2. Grow and block the flow of blood
    3. Remove nutrients from the digestive system
    4. Destroy cells as they multiply

3rd Item Specification: Recognize that some diseases are caused by many different types of infections (e.g. virus- influenza, AIDS; bacteria- pneumonia, strep throat; protista- malaria; fungus- athletes foot)

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. The microorganisms primarily responsible for food poisoning are
    1. viruses.
    2. protists.
    3. fungi.
    4. bacteria.
  1. Some diseases such as malaria and the plague are spread by organisms that infect others without experiencing the sickness. The organisms that spread disease are known as
    1. vectors.
    2. mutagens.
    3. antibodies.
    4. carcinogens.
  1. Which of the following is an example of a vector and the disease that it spreads?
    1. Bacteria and strep throat
    2. Shoes and athletes foot
    3. Mosquitoes and malaria
    4. Hospitals and pneumonia
  1. After visiting a public swimming pool, a person develops an itchy and inflamed infection on their feet. What disease did the person most likely develop?
    1. Athletes foot
    2. Ringworm
    3. Strep throat
    4. Pneumonia

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Malaria is a disease that is caused by a protist known as Plasmodium. When a mosquito bites a person infected with malaria, then bites a healthy person, the malaria-causing pathogens can infect the healthy person. What is the vector in this case?
    1. Human
    2. Plasmodium
    3. Mosquito
    4. Blood
  1. The table below describes the patient and the symptoms they are experiencing. Use the table to answer the question below.


Description of Symptoms


A student recently ate food from a damaged food container and is now experiencing difficulty seeing, swallowing and breathing.


A food handler in a rural area does not have access to proper toilet facilities. He now has a high fever, chills, cramps, and blood in stool.


A 6 year-old child had cold-like symptoms for several days, then developed a red rash all over her body and became dehydrated.


A traveler went to a country with poor water treatment and no proper toilet facilities. She exhibits vomiting, muscle cramps, and dehydration.  

Cholera is a highly infectious disease common in areas where sanitation is poor. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, extreme dehydration, and muscle cramps. What patient is most likely experiencing cholera?

    1. Patient 1
    2. Patient 2
    3. Patient 3
    4. Patient 4

4th Item Specification: Identify that some diseases are infectious, others may be inherited, and some result from a breakdown of body systems.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Which of the following is NOT an infectious disease?
    1. Influenza
    2. Strep throat
    3. Chicken pox
    4. Cancer
  1. An infectious disease may NOT be transmitted by
    1. being bitten by an insect.
    2. inheriting a gene mutation.
    3. shaking hands with an infected person.
    4. improperly cleaned surgical instruments.
  1. Inherited disorders can be caused by
    1. gene mutations.
    2. changing one’s diet.
    3. drinking contaminated water.
    4. eating contaminated food.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. If a child is born with a genetic disorder, but the mother and father do not have the disorder, then how did the child develop the disorder?
    1. The child was exposed to an infectious agent at birth.
    2. The child has an allergy to an environmental agent.
    3. The disorder is caused by a recessive trait and both parents are carriers.
    4. The disorder is caused by a dominant trait that both parents possess.
  1. Why are antibiotics ineffective for treating viral infections?
    1. Antibiotics work by interfering with bacterial cell processes.
    2. Antibiotics treat the symptoms and not the cause of the infection.  
    3. Viruses have different cell walls than bacteria.
    4. Viruses contain genetic material that is resistant to medicine.


5th Item Specification: Know defects in body systems can be related to congenital, autoimmune, or environmental conditions.

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. Autoimmune diseases result when the immune system
    1. overreacts to allergens in the environment.
    2. is weakened by the presence of a virus.
    3. no longer functions at all.
    4. fails to distinguish itself from foreign material.


  1. Which of the following is NOT an environmental factor that affects the health of a person?
    1. Toxic waste in land fills
    2. Exposure to solar radiation
    3. Poor water quality
    4. Improved air quality

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. One type of allergic reaction results in the constriction of the bronchial tubes, which interferes with the passage of air into the lungs. This type of allergic reaction is most closely associated with
    1. pneumonia.
    2. strep throat.
    3. asthma.
    4. lung cancer.
  1. A construction worker is informed by his doctor that he has developed lung cancer. What working conditions most likely contributed to his illness?
    1. Removing asbestos tiles from homes.
    2. Installing artificial turf in yards.
    3. Consuming large quantities of fish.
    4. Overexposure to ultraviolet sunlight.
  1. Pregnant women are told by their doctors to limit the amount of fish in their diet. Doctors are concerned the fetus may be affected by high concentrations of what element in the environment?
    1. Lead
    2. Mercury
    3. Oxygen
    4. Nitrogen

Constructed Response L.8.B.5

  1. A group of students took potato salad made with mayonnaise to a picnic on a very hot day. Explain how eating the potato salad could cause food poisoning. Describe something that could be done to the potato salad to prevent the people who eat it from getting food poisoning, and why this would work.

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Content Benchmark L.8.B.5

Students know diseases can result from defects in body systems or from damage caused by infection. E/S

Answers to Sample Test Questions

  1. C, DOK Level 1
  2. D, DOK Level 1
  3. D, DOK Level 1
  4. A, DOK Level 1
  5. D, DOK Level 1
  6. A, DOK Level 2
  7. B, DOK Level 2
  8. B, DOK Level 1
  9. A, DOK Level 1
  10. C, DOK Level 1
  11. A, DOK Level 2
  12. D, DOK Level 2
  13. D, DOK Level 1
  14. A, DOK Level 1
  15. C, DOK Level 1
  16. A, DOK Level 1
  17. C, DOK Level 2
  18. D, DOK Level 2
  19. D, DOK Level 1
  20. B, DOK Level 1
  21. A, DOK Level 1
  22. C, DOK Level 2
  23. A, DOK Level 2
  24. D, DOK Level 1
  25. D, DOK Level 1
  26. C, DOK Level 2
  27. A, DOK Level 2
  28. B, DOK Level 2


Constructed Response L.8.B.5 Score Rubric:


3 Points



Response addresses all parts of the question clearly and correctly.

The potato salad may cause food poisoning if it is not refrigerated. As the temperature of the potato salad increase, the rate that the microbes reproduce in the salad also increases. Over time, the bacteria in the potato salad will increase and if the students eat the potato salad then they may get sick because the bacteria produce toxins that harm people. If the potato salad was refrigerated, then the bacteria would not reproduce as quickly and the students would not get food poisoning.


2 Points


Response addresses all parts of the question and includes only minor errors.


1 Point


Response does not address all parts of the question.


0 Points


Response is totally incorrect or no response provided.

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Content Benchmark L.8.B.5

Students know disease can result from defects in body systems or from damage caused by infection.  E/S

Intervention Strategies and Resources

The following is a list of intervention strategies and resources that will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.

1. Lesson Plans for Middle School Teachers

The National Science Digital Library (NSDL) has an incredible web site filled with activities to help students differentiate between viruses and bacteria.  The “What’s Making You Sick” website is designed to facilitate discussions about viruses and bacteria, and helps aid middle school students in understanding the differences.

The website is available at

There are also other websites that also help students understand the causes of diseases. The following website is one that delves into how viruses cause disease.

To access the website, go to

2. Homeostasis: It’s All a Matter of Balance

To help students understand concepts of homeostasis, there is a great inquiry activity that has students create their own experiments to test their body’s homeostasis.

To download this PDF lesson, go to

3. Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Blazing a Genetic Trail

To help students understand the concepts of genetics and disease, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has put together a great website with lots of different information about the human genome and the human genome project.  This is a valuable web resource for both this benchmark, and many others dealing with genetics.

The HHMI website is available at

4. How Does an Infectious Disease Spread? HIV Simulation

This website provides an infectious disease simulation using phenolphthalein and a diluted base. The activity gives the students a dramatic visual of how quickly any infectious disease can spread through a population by exchanging “body fluids”.

The lesson can be access at

5. BAM! Body and Mind

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a website to inform students about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.  The website contains a variety of activities and simulations that are informative and maintain the interest of a middle school student.  

To access the website, go to

6. Infectious Disease: Causes and Prevention

In this activity, students take on the role as “Mysterious Disease Detectives” as they try to determine the cause of a disease. The lesson contains informational sheets that the students use to solve the mystery and provides an opportunity for the students to discuss their results with the other sleuths in the classroom.

To download this PDF lesson, click on

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Support Pages

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Sample Questions:
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Intervention Strategies & Resources:
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Benchmark Related Vocabulary