We always see public service messages during an outbreak regarding preventing and treating that disease. After some time, we hear about new and improved methods to control the spread of that disease in the form of vaccination and other treatment methods. What we don’t see is the team of epidemiologists working day and night to study and understand the outbreak well enough to control and prevent its spread. This article will focus on the role of epidemiologists in preventing health issues faced by the global population.
Epidemiologists are public health workers who detect and study new diseases and predict their potential to become outbreaks, epidemics, or pandemics. They are often called “Disease Detectives” who collect the evidence of a disease outbreak, trace its origins, and devise a plan to control its spread.
Health issues are not limited to outbreaks and infectious diseases. They also include genetic diseases prevalent in a particular society, non-communicable diseases brought about by specific environmental conditions, substance abuse, etc. Epidemiologists use their skillset to study the trends of different diseases and those at risk. Such trends are imperative to improve the general health of the population.
How Do Epidemiologists Prevent Health Issues?
Epidemiology is a vast and diverse field. They possess a wide range of skills they can utilize to the best of their ability. The core epidemiologist skills include research, statistics, critical thinking, and mass communication. Here are a few techniques epidemiologists utilize to prevent major health issues in a population.
1. Extensive Research
Like any other detective, epidemiologists first investigate the site of an outbreak. They gather information and clues to determine the root cause of the disease and the environment it needs to flourish and spread.
Most infectious diseases involve serious health issues and abnormal medical reports. Epidemiologists can conduct their research in more ways than one. They visit the area where the disease is reported in its initial stages to determine where it originated and why. Epidemiologists also conduct surveys through online questionnaires and interviews to figure out the vulnerable population.
Genetic diseases and their prevalence is studied through biochemical testing. Genetic markers in specific populations make them more susceptible to genetically transmitted illnesses like asthma and diabetes. Such markers are determined through complex laboratory procedures and extensive testing.
2. Data Analysis
Research and experimentation are conducted to gather relevant data about an outbreak. All this data needs to be organized into charts and graphs to read and interpret. This is where data analysis comes in.
Data analysis is imperative in epidemiological research. Data analysts need to have a firm grasp of statistical concepts and tools. They organize the descriptive data into graphs, tables, and charts. Once organized, the data points start to reveal a specific pattern that can help epidemiologists to trace and track the origins and prevalence of the disease in question. These patterns are revealed as charts and graphs that can be easily identified and studied.
3. Critical Thinking
In some cases, research alone does not help to understand the disease. There is missing information, or a key element goes unnoticed in the patterns drawn during data analysis. In such cases, critical thinking skills come to the rescue!
Critical thinking is a remarkable skill for an epidemiologist. It helps them observe the data from a different perspective which might be the key to identifying new patterns. Such patterns can be the key elements to some groundbreaking discoveries about the origins and prevalence of deadly diseases.
Epidemiologists also utilize their critical thinking skills to apply previously researched facts to draw the most likely conclusions from their current research. This helps them compare the diseases that are similar in their spread and prevalence, helping them predict their likely course of action in the future.
4. Development of preventive policies
Epidemiologists work with public health administrations and government bodies to develop and implement healthcare policies that help prevent and control the spread of an outbreak. These policies include control and preventive measures like vaccines, self-care methods, and safety interventions.
Epidemiologists conduct various clinical trials to determine the best possible measures to take with the least side effects. The clinical trial is a term commonly used in drug and vaccine development. Before introducing it to the general public, healthcare workers administer the drug or the vaccine to the willing participants in the clinical trial study, observe the efficacy and draw conclusions based on the collected data.
5. Communicate with the general public
After everything is organized and sorted, the biggest challenge is to communicate the new policies to the general public in a way that is easy to understand.
Epidemiologists are responsible for conveying their findings, including the nature, the symptoms, treatment, and preventive measures, in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. Many people are unaware of the medical terms used to define certain diseases and health conditions. Some also have reservations regarding new medical treatments, claiming them false and government conspiracies.
Epidemiologists play a significant role in detecting and containing outbreaks. These professionals contribute to the healthcare system in the background, working tirelessly to develop and implement policies that are in the best interest of public health.