Tell Me More: Epidemiology

Public Health 101

24 Oct 2022

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the word “epidemiology” has been used countless times when referring to the virus and its characteristics, but what does it really mean? Epidemiology is the study of diseases, investigating how, when, why they occur, and who is at the highest risk of negative outcomes.

The Centres of Disease Control and Prevention defines epidemiology as “… the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations... the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states and events in specified populations.”

What is an epidemiologist?

Sometimes referred to as “disease detectives”, epidemiologists are individuals who study diseases. When a disease occurs at the population level rather than at the individual level, epidemiologists conduct research, collect and analyze data, and identify disease patterns to help us understand from where the disease originated, who it is most likely to affect, and determine how to control and prevent both its spread and future outbreaks.

The work that epidemiologists do helps to provide the necessary evidence for public health professionals and policy makers to make informed decisions to prevent the spread of a disease, and to preserve and improve population health.

The importance of epidemiology in public health

Epidemiology is a cornerstone of public health. Without epidemiology, we wouldn’t be able to understand the origin, frequency, patterns, causes and risk factors of diseases that affect a large population. This science is essential to public health programs, policies, and initiatives that help protect the health of Canadians.

Epidemiology also provides critical information on vaccine development and strategy by providing guidance in understanding which diseases require vaccines, where one can be developed, and by providing scientific insight into vaccines for specific sub-populations (e.g., pregnant women, the elderly, and children). Vaccine epidemiology is the study of the interactions and effects of vaccines and vaccination programs on vaccine preventable diseases.

Epidemiology saves lives and improves long-term health.

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Published 24 Oct 2022