Have you ever been scrolling through your Facebook or Twitter feed and see a news article about an outbreak? How about when you were watching the news? I’m sure many of us have, but have you ever thought about how these outbreaks are identified, resolved, or even prevented? Well, that’s where an epidemiologist’s job comes into play!
Epidemiologists are the professionals who monitor reportable diseases in order to prevent these outbreaks that you hear about in the news. In Ohio, there is a list of reportable diseases that are mandated by law to be reported to the local health departments. These diseases are monitored by the epidemiologists in charge of that jurisdiction. Not only do they monitor reportable diseases, but they also have syndromic surveillance tools. Syndromic surveillance is the monitoring of symptoms that may be tied to a reportable disease. By monitoring this, the epidemiologist may be able to detect a potential outbreak by simply noticing an increase in a certain type of symptom. Now you may be wondering “How does one become an epidemiologist?” In order to become an epidemiologist, you must get a Bachelor’s degree in a science related field. Once you finish that, it is highly recommended that you pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health or Epidemiology. If you enjoy studying diseases, are interested in sociology, and enjoy data analysis, becoming an epidemiologist may be just the job for you.
You may be wondering why I mentioned sociology and data analysis if you need degrees in science and public health. When looking at diseases, you are going to need to understand why some individuals are more likely to get diseases than others. That is where sociology comes into the picture. This can be something as simple as correlating the number of people getting flu shots with the number of people who get the flu, or something more complex such as the number of women who receive preventative care like mammograms and pap smears and the number of late stage breast and cervical cancers. Being able to correlate instances such as these also involve data analysis. Data analysis can also be used to identify the source of outbreaks. This can be done by comparing individuals who are ill with those who are not ill. By doing this and comparing their exposures to different items or places, a source can be established. Of course, it isn’t always quite that simple. A great example of this is with John Snow and the Cholera outbreak in 19th century London.
For more information about reportable diseases in Ohio, visit ODH.Ohio.Gov and search “ABC.” For more information about epidemiology visit CDC.Gov and search “Epidemiology” For more information on John Snow, search him on the internet. Disclaimer: He is not a character in Game of Thrones.
Submitted by Mikie Strite, regional epidemiologist, South Central Region.
Mikie Strite is the regional epidemiologist for 10 counties including Meigs funded by the ODH Public Health Preparedness Grant.