What is an epidemiologist, and what does he/she do?

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Module 3 – Home

PUBLIC HEALTH AND EPIDEMIOLOGY

Modular Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, the student will be able to satisfy the following outcomes:

Case
Discuss basic principles of epidemiology including factors that influence the occurrence of disease (e.g. disease control).
SLP
Examine how public health data and tools are used to measure the occurrence of disease in a population.
Discussion
Explore the concept of risk assessment in public health practice.
Module Overview

Now that we have explored the core functions and services of public health, we will look at factors that influence the occurrence of disease.

What is an epidemiologist, and what does he/she do? The field of Epidemiology is devoted to the study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in human populations. Described in another way, epidemiologists study how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why.

Tools of the Epidemiology Trade

As you will discover in the background readings, Epidemiology covers not only the study of patterns of disease, such as rates (e.g. morbidity and mortality) and risk factors, but also methods of controlling disease. In other coursework, you will have opportunities to delve deep into principles of epidemiology. But the goal here is to acquaint you with some of the tools and techniques that are used to measure patterns of disease occurrence.

Epidemiologists can use a variety of techniques and tools: surveys, surveillance, and biological monitoring. Maps are also very useful tools of epidemiology.

In this module, you will become familiar with the types of data that are used to quantify and compare patterns of disease in populations. As Coggon et al. (2003) point out, it is through the study and measurement of these patterns that we gain clues to etiology of disease (Note that in England, etiology is spelled “aetiology”).

Statistics and analysis of data

A major challenge in public health is identifying determinants of health. For example, if a specific number of people became ill in a defined area over a specific period of time, is this enough to truly know why those illnesses occurred? Was this pattern explainable by human behavior, genetic factors, exposure to an infectious disease agents, exposure to chemicals in the environment, or maybe some combination of those factors? To address these types of questions as public health practitioners, we employ statistical methods.

According to Schneider (2006), “…all public health, because it is concerned with populations, relies on statistics to provide and interpret data”. You will have the opportunity to explore principles and concepts of health statistics in depth in another course. For this course we are mainly acquainting ourselves with the science of epidemiology, which is essentially a science that is rooted in statistical concepts and methods.

Although many people have a disdain for statistics, analyzing statistical data facilitates a greater understanding of patterns and associations in the world around us. As Schneider (2006) explains, “Statistics makes possible the translation of data into information about causes and effects, health risks, and disease cures”.

Risk Assessment

An important application of public health practice is risk assessment. Risk assessment is a formal process in which events and exposures that may be harmful are identified; the probability of their occurrence, and the extent of harm they cause is evaluated (Schneider, 2006). According to the FAO (2012), “A description of a disease problem should specify the disease and the population at risk, give information on the distribution of events in time and space, and include an attempt to quantify disease events”.

Populations at risk. These can be identified by studying the distribution of the disease within host populations by species, breed, age and sex. Descriptions of population densities and movements are also of great value, particularly when the disease is transmitted by contact (FAO, 2012)

Distribution of disease events in time and space. This generally involves looking for the “clustering” of disease events in time, space or both (FAO, 2012).

As you explore the background materials for this module in preparation to complete your modular assignments, keep in mind that public health practice takes place in a context of incomplete or imperfect information and uncertainty on which to base predictions for the future. It is through the formal mathematical expression of the level of probability of occurrence of an event that scientists assess risk.

It is important to keep in mind the distinction between risk and perceived risk.

Evidence-based forms of analysis are being utilized to weigh public health decisions in terms of their level of harm, their benefits, and their costs.

Module 3 – Home

PUBLIC HEALTH AND EPIDEMIOLOGY

Modular Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module, the student will be able to satisfy the following outcomes:

Case
Discuss basic principles of epidemiology including factors that influence the occurrence of disease (e.g. disease control).
SLP
Examine how public health data and tools are used to measure the occurrence of disease in a population.
Discussion
Explore the concept of risk assessment in public health practice.
Module Overview

Now that we have explored the core functions and services of public health, we will look at factors that influence the occurrence of disease.

What is an epidemiologist, and what does he/she do? The field of Epidemiology is devoted to the study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in human populations. Described in another way, epidemiologists study how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why.

Tools of the Epidemiology Trade

As you will discover in the background readings, Epidemiology covers not only the study of patterns of disease, such as rates (e.g. morbidity and mortality) and risk factors, but also methods of controlling disease. In other coursework, you will have opportunities to delve deep into principles of epidemiology. But the goal here is to acquaint you with some of the tools and techniques that are used to measure patterns of disease occurrence.

Epidemiologists can use a variety of techniques and tools: surveys, surveillance, and biological monitoring. Maps are also very useful tools of epidemiology.

In this module, you will become familiar with the types of data that are used to quantify and compare patterns of disease in populations. As Coggon et al. (2003) point out, it is through the study and measurement of these patterns that we gain clues to etiology of disease (Note that in England, etiology is spelled “aetiology”).

Statistics and analysis of data

A major challenge in public health is identifying determinants of health. For example, if a specific number of people became ill in a defined area over a specific period of time, is this enough to truly know why those illnesses occurred? Was this pattern explainable by human behavior, genetic factors, exposure to an infectious disease agents, exposure to chemicals in the environment, or maybe some combination of those factors? To address these types of questions as public health practitioners, we employ statistical methods.

According to Schneider (2006), “…all public health, because it is concerned with populations, relies on statistics to provide and interpret data”. You will have the opportunity to explore principles and concepts of health statistics in depth in another course. For this course we are mainly acquainting ourselves with the science of epidemiology, which is essentially a science that is rooted in statistical concepts and methods.

Although many people have a disdain for statistics, analyzing statistical data facilitates a greater understanding of patterns and associations in the world around us. As Schneider (2006) explains, “Statistics makes possible the translation of data into information about causes and effects, health risks, and disease cures”.

Risk Assessment

An important application of public health practice is risk assessment. Risk assessment is a formal process in which events and exposures that may be harmful are identified; the probability of their occurrence, and the extent of harm they cause is evaluated (Schneider, 2006). According to the FAO (2012), “A description of a disease problem should specify the disease and the population at risk, give information on the distribution of events in time and space, and include an attempt to quantify disease events”.

Populations at risk. These can be identified by studying the distribution of the disease within host populations by species, breed, age and sex. Descriptions of population densities and movements are also of great value, particularly when the disease is transmitted by contact (FAO, 2012)

Distribution of disease events in time and space. This generally involves looking for the “clustering” of disease events in time, space or both (FAO, 2012).

As you explore the background materials for this module in preparation to complete your modular assignments, keep in mind that public health practice takes place in a context of incomplete or imperfect information and uncertainty on which to base predictions for the future. It is through the formal mathematical expression of the level of probability of occurrence of an event that scientists assess risk.

It is important to keep in mind the distinction between risk and perceived risk.

Evidence-based forms of analysis are being utilized to weigh public health decisions in terms of their level of harm, their benefits, and their costs.


 

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