Why you need to know about Epidemiology
The word ‘Epidemiology’ is the branch of medicine that deals with the distribution, patterns, and analysis of diseases. Recent events taught us that we need to not only recognise but also be able to appreciate
The word ‘Epidemiology’ is the branch of medicine that deals with the distribution, patterns, and analysis of diseases. Recent events taught us that we need to not only recognise but also be able to appreciate the efforts that take place in monitoring healthcare. Epidemiology is just one sector of Medicine that is often overlooked but plays a vital role in our understanding of pathogens and their characteristics.
Defining the basics of Epidemiology
I first came across Epidemiology when I attended an online webinar presented by the University of Bradford. The purpose of Epidemiology is to analyse findings regarding diseases and to develop mechanisms through which illnesses can be controlled. A big part of epidemiology is to train oneself to find patterns and trends in a population. Determining these patterns (or lack thereof) could enable scientists to suggest hypotheses and test them using data that is collected from a specific population.
The reason why Epidemiology is such an interesting science is because of what it works around. It analyses data regarding the human population, which although it can be quantified, is also impacted by other socioeconomic and political factors. Hence it is not enough to just know about the medical factors that can endanger a population. Epidemiologists must also familiarise themselves with the latest political and social movements and crises that are happening in the observed area.
Yogi Bera once said, ‘You can observe a lot just by watching’. Epidemiologists like to watch. They keep track of trends. They observe. Because in any science that saves thousands of lives, just ‘watching’ isn’t sufficient. They must be able to break down and explain what they observe.
Defining some basic epidemiology keywords:
Epidemiology, like any other science, consists of specific keywords which help in describing samples taken by Epidemiologists and diseases. Some of the keywords are:
- Sporadic – A disease that occurs infrequently and irregularly. Examples include Cancer, The Plague, Rabies.
- Endemic – meaning ‘in people’. A disease or condition found amongst a particular group in a certain area. Chances of ‘endemic diseases’ are increased by inbreeding amongst close generations. This includes seasonal flues, Tuberculosis.
- Epidemic – refers to ‘on people’ – When the incident amount of people who are affected by the disease increase beyond what’s expected. Recent examples include Ebola (2014-2015), The Black Plague, and Chickenpox.
- Pandemic – translates to ‘all people’. A disease that’s prevalent throughout the world. Covid-19, The Spanish Flu or HIV/AIDS.
How is Epidemiological data obtained any useful?
We’ve discussed what Epidemiology is, What Epidemiologists do, The language and keywords by which they analyze their observed data. But what’s the use of this data? And Most importantly – who uses it?
Statisticians and Epidemiologists work closely together to interpret data obtained from a specific sample. In particular, Descriptive epidemiologists aim to provide a way through which cyclical and secular trends linking to prevalence and incidence of disease can be organized. This organized data is then used by a multitude of organizations, such as:
- Pharmaceutical Companies – Often use epidemiological data such as mortality rates, consumption of a drug, or clinical data. They use this to check the demand of the drug as well as its efficacy.
- Healthcare – Healthcare organizations such as the NHS use trend-based geographical data to check disease control management in a state or city as well as the prevalence of a disease.
- Political Parties – Politicians and their parties often use epidemiological data to check correlation, regression, and trends. This is to ensure that they market the correct healthcare policies and to check their financial capability of eradicating a disease.
Thus, you must have now realized that Epidemiology is a crucial sector of healthcare. The number of lives saved by the work of Epidemiologists is not a number we can ‘put out there’. This is because in various ways, the work of Epidemiologists has saved countless lives, time, and time again.