What is epidemiology and where does the study come from?
According to the CDC, epidemiology can be defined as the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. In epidemiology, the patient is the community and individuals are viewed collectively. By definition, epidemiology is the study (scientific, systematic, and data-driven) of the distribution (frequency, pattern) and determinants (causes, risk factors) of health-related states and events (not just diseases) in specified populations (neighborhood, school, city, state, country, global). It also is the application of this study to the control of health problems.
Did you know that the study of epidemiology is over 2000 years old? We can trace the study back to around 400 B.C. During this time, Hippocrates, a Greek physician attempted to explain the occurrences of diseases from a rational viewpoint rather than that of a supernatural one. He even wrote an essay suggesting the environment and things like the person’s behavior might influence the development of diseases.
Probably one of the more famous epidemiologists that you may have heard of is John Snow. He was an anesthesiologist during the mid-1800s and is commonly known as the father of epidemiology. Snow conducted studies of cholera outbreaks to discover the cause of the disease and to also prevent it from reoccurring. Snow conducted one of his now famous studies in 1854 when an epidemic of cholera occurred in the Golden Square of London. He began his investigation by determining where in this area persons with cholera lived and worked. He marked each residence on a map of the area. This type of map, showing the geographic distribution of cases, is called a spot map and is still used in today’s epidemiology.
Epidemiology has since evolved from the times of John Snow, but it is still widely used in research today. Today, public health workers throughout the world accept and use epidemiology regularly to characterize the health of their communities and to solve day-to-day problems, large and small.
Mikie Strite, MPH, is a regional epidemiologist with the Meigs Health Department.