What is Epidemiology?
Epidemiology is the study of diseases, illnesses and health risks in populations. The term is derived from the Greek ‘epi’ which means upon, ‘demos’ meaning people, and ‘logos’ which means study (of). While this term generally applies to humans, it can also loosely apply to animals and plants. People who practice epidemiology are called epidemiologists.
Epidemiology concerns itself with epidemics, which is when a disease or a new strain of an existing disease spreads throughout a population in unexpected levels. The information gathered from the study of epidemics help scientists control outbreaks of diseases that are infectious from spreading further in a population. Public health relies heavily on epidemiology because many health issues can only be gleaned by looking beyond the individual level and through a statistical level.
Aside from infectious diseases, epidemiologists also study chronic conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Information from a population suffering from these conditions are studied and analyzed for patterns in diet, lifestyle habits, environmental factors etc. which can contribute to the disease.
Dr. John Snow is considered to be the ‘father’ of epidemiology for successfully determining the cause of a cholera outbreak in 1854 in London.