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Epidemiology is the study of the occurrence of health-related events, especially diseases, in a population. The factors that are associated with the event, such as causes, risks, protective measures, and time of occurrence are analyzed. This field mainly involves researching on a specific disease or disorder that affects a population. Through epidemiology, scientists determine the number of people who are affected by a health-related event, whether it is spreading, and the effects that it has on the population. The specific cause of a disease cannot be determined through epidemiology, but the risk factor that shows the highest correlation to the occurrence of the disease is determined.

The history of Epidemiology

Epidemiology began in the early 1800s with the occurrence of diseases such as smallpox and polio, which were infectious and affected large human populations. Scientists carried out studies on the affected populations to determine the causes of these diseases. The research was found to be beneficial in understanding epidemics and handling them in the early stages. Epidemiology has grown over the years and now includes studying non-communicable diseases, such as cancer. Natural disasters, poisonings by environmental factors, and bioterrorism are also researched through epidemiology. Researchers use the epidemiological approach to understand the health problems and determine the possible causes.

Epidemiological approach

The biology research methodology is used in epidemiology, but there are specific methods that are required when studying health problems. These methods are used to collect data, analyze it, and interpret it. An epidemiological study can be either retrospective or prospective, depending on whether the disease has already occurred or is expected to occur in the future. It is important to have a defined population in which to carry out the research and get results. This is because epidemiologists analyze a health problem and its effects in relation to the population at risk. The individuals who are susceptible to the disease, whether sick or not, make up the population at risk. Epidemiological conclusions should not be made based only on the sick cases because diseases usually affect a wide population.

All the individuals who are eligible for use in the research of a health problem are known as the target population. In most cases, the target population is large and, therefore, a sample is selected and used in the research. The selected sample should be representative of the entire target population to avoid errors when making conclusions. A random selection method is the best for use in choosing a sample with all the characteristics of the target population. Comparisons in the results from different populations are also very important in drawing conclusions. Epidemiologists study previous research on the disease, build on it and compare the results acquired.

Key terms in Epidemiology

Prevalence rate

This is the total number of specific health cases that have been recorded in a population at a given time. It shows the proportion of the population that has been found to have a health problem that is being studied.

Incidence rate

This is the rate of occurrence of a medical condition. It shows how many more people are getting infected with the disease in a given period. It is determined by calculating the number of new cases that are recorded in a population over a specific period.

Cost of illness

This is the measure of the expenditures that are associated with a health problem. This includes the money spent on treatment, prevention, training and support services. There are also other costs that are difficult to measure, such as the income that would have been gained at work as a patient got treatment.

Burden of disease

This is the effect that the disease has on society, other than the expenditures that are used in treatment. The amount of time lost to disease in years is used to determine its burden. It can also be determined by finding the difference between the normal life expectancy and the life expectancy of an individual with the disease.

Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY)

This is a measure of the life expectancy of a population, while considering the effects of a disease. The measurement considers an ideal situation in which the entire population is free of disease and compares it to the situation in which the disease is present. The difference in life expectancy in the two situations gives the DALY. One DALY refers to one year of life lost to ill health.

The importance of Epidemiology

Epidemiology is important in understanding an event that affects a large population. Epidemics affect the health of a large number of people, thus they can be difficult to handle within a short period. Identifying the risk factors that are associated with an epidemic is the most important step in controlling it. Epidemiology has been useful in dealing with:

Communicable diseases

Epidemiology began with the need to study communicable diseases such as smallpox and typhoid. It has led to the identification of causatives and the development of treatments and preventions.

Non-communicable diseases

Epidemiology has grown to include non-infectious diseases that affect large populations. Cancer is the main non-communicable disease that is studied using the epidemiological approach due to its wide distribution.

Environmental poisonings

Environmental agents can cause health problems to large populations. The exposure to substances such as heavy metals and radioactive materials can affect the health of a wide population. These materials are identified through epidemiological studies.

Natural disasters

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes expose populations to many health risks. Epidemiology is used to analyze these public health problems and develop long-lasting solutions.


Bioterrorism involves the use of biological materials to cause harm to others. This can affect the health of a large number of people and, therefore, the epidemiological approach is used to determine the possible causatives.


The scientists who specialize in studying the occurrence of health problems are known as epidemiologists. They use the epidemiological approach to study the distribution of a health-related event in a population, and identify the factors that determine its occurrence. An individual requires a bachelor’s degree in a biology-related field, especially in a health program, to become an epidemiologist. Further studies in the field enable one to become a researcher who can practice independently. Most students, if not all, encountered challenges at some point when studying Biology as a subject. If you ever have issues with improving your grades in biology you can always request for Biology assignment samples from experts in this field of study.

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