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What is Epidemiology?

Learn what it means to be an epidemiologist

In the past decade increased concerns about emerging infections, such as the recent H1N1 flu, toxic environmental hazards, and global health disparities have led to an increased recognition of the importance of the field of epidemiology. With increasing health risks, epidemiology is expanding our understanding of those risks and providing base data for preventive approaches in medicine and public health.

Epidemiology is the study of patterns of disease and injury in human populations and the application of this study to the control of health problems. Epidemiologists study the variation of disease in relation to age, sex, race, occupational and social characteristics, place of residence, susceptibility, exposure to specific agents or other pertinent characteristics. Epidemiologists develop and evaluate hypotheses about the effects on human health of hereditary, behavioral, environmental, and health care factors, and develop the knowledge basis for disease prevention and control programs.

It is an interdisciplinary field.  Many tools of epidemiology are borrowed from other fields such as microbiology, immunology, medicine, statistics, demography and medical geography. The range of topics now addressed by epidemiologic methods includes health promotion, disease prevention, and assessing the quality of health care.

The contribution of epidemiology to any study involving groups of people is increasingly being recognized and demanded. An epidemiologist may work in a wide variety of settings, including international health agencies, state and local health departments, federal government agencies and health programs, colleges and universities, and numerous research institutions.  Learn more about careers in epidemiology here.

Famous Epidemiologists
  • James Lind - Discovered sailors suffer from scurvy and need to eat citrus fruits
  • John Snow - "The Father of Modern Epidemiology" - 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak
  • Joseph Goldberger - Warned Americans about the important link between poor nutrition and pellagra.
  • Jonas Edward Salk - Discovery and development of the first safe and effect polio vaccine
  • Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill - Linked lung cancer with cigarette smoke

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