Epidemiology focuses on changing and improving the health of communities, both on a local level and on a global level. Epidemiologists focus on the study and control of disease or injury patterns in human populations.
They may work hand in hand with biostaticians, professionals who use mathematical and scientific methods to determine the cause of disease and injuries, to identify health trends within communities and to evaluate programs. The study of epidemiology can be traced all the way back to Hippocrates in 400 B.C., when he made attempts to explain diseases from a rational rather than supernatural viewpoint. Rather than thinking that health had anything to do with gods or magic, he made the argument that naturally occurring forces were involved, specifically environment and behavior.
As centuries passed, revolutionary thinkers such as William Farr, John Graunt and John Snow collected mortality data in order to understand disease and health. All three contributed to investigating certain disease outbreaks in London. From then on, epidemiology grew into the profession it is today.
Professionals who work to cure epidemics have been the ones to eradicate smallpox, have managed to almost eliminate polio and malaria and are still working towards discovering the cure to other diseases. Here are some diseases that have affected the world and are a major focus of epidemiologists’ work.
The Ongoing Fight Against Cancer
Unfortunately, cancer is one of those diseases that is well known by the public. Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue and affect different cells throughout the body.
Cytotechnologists examine slides of human cells for any indication that a cell is abnormal and/or diseased. These professionals often play a crucial role in helping patients to recover from illness by identifying a disease while it is still at a treatable stage. Though they spend most of their time behind the scenes in the lab, they contribute to fighting epidemics by providing serious, methodical study of disease.
Working Towards Malaria Eradication
Malaria is a rare disease transmitted via the bite of a mosquito in tropical locations. Though extremely rare to those living in the continental United States, the disease remains ever present. Because the way to diagnose malaria, as well as other illnesses, is via a blood test, if you have ever gone to get lab work done, you have been in contact with a phlebotomist even if you didn’t actually meet this health care professional! Phelbotomists test and collect blood so it can be analyzed in a clinical laboratory. With some time and a focus on safety protocol, phlebotomists can help maintain constant data on samples and on treatment progress.
A Better Way of Treating HIV & AIDS
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the immune system, destroying a type of white blood cell called the T-helper cell. AIDS, also known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a set of symptoms caused by HIV. About 30 years ago, many thought AIDS to be a death sentence. Thanks to the professionals working in epidemiology, medications have improved and now reduce complications and improve quality of life for those with this syndrome. Also, prevention education has helped keep those in communities at risk from acquiring it.
Some patients have their community health worker to thank for their expanded knowledge about this and other diseases. Community health workers are dedicated individuals who function along a continuum ranging from individual and community development to service delivery and promoting community empowerment and social justice. They often help link people to needed health care information and services.
While community health workers directly work with patients, clinical laboratory scientists and technicians work with and study their samples. Clinical laboratory scientists, like phlebotomists, observe if there is a presence or absence of disease and provide data that helps physicians determine the best treatment for the patient. For those with HIV or AIDS, this is a crucial part of understanding if there is any progression with treatment or if new route should be considered by their doctors.
Join the Fight
With an excellent job outlook, 6-9 years of higher education required and an average salary of $38,000 to $136,000, epidemiology is a great field to consider joining if you’re interested in helping your local and global community. Now that you’ve learned a little history of epidemiology, explore this field further by playing “Outbreak at Watersedge” or “Epidemic!,” two games that will offer you a chance to see just how these health professionals help promote public health.