Epidemiology is the study of factors affecting the health of populations. It is a discipline that relates to the distribution, frequency, and severity of disease states and other factors that are common enough that it should be possible to obtain data on a statistical basis. Therefore, is not only the epidemiology of infectious diseases, but also, for example, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The epidemiological research carried out in universities and other scientific institutions around the world have usually aims to identify and evaluate the importance of different risk factors for ill-health and premature death.
- lifestyle factors,
- smoking habits,
- diet and exercise habits,
Environmental factors such as:
- tobacco smoke,
- exposure to hazardous substances in the working environment.
In recent years, the genetic epidemiology, exploring how genetic predisposition may involve greater or lesser sensitivity to withstand environmental factors and adverse health effects, is of great significance.
Thus, students writing their research papers on epidemiology, have to understand, that such research, searching for the connections between health and the factors that increases the risk of illness, has actually the name etiological research, but in practice the code epidemiology is used both to denote the pure epidemiology – the study of the spread of diseases – and studies about the cause of disease and illness.
Epidemiology is an essential part of health and medical science, and in recent years, it has received increasing attention and importance all over the world. Branches of medicine that are strongly connected with epidemiology are public health and community medicine. The overall goal of epidemiological research is to find through increased knowledge causes of disease and risk factors, thereby preventing disease and illness. In order to find these relationships between external and internal factors and the health condition, one has to make studies of some kind. There may be clinical trials, registry studies, retrospective studies, longitudinal population studies etc.
Epidemiology’s origin is due to the physician John Snow, famous for having been able to stop a cholera epidemic in London, England in 1854. By plotting illness on a city map, he was able to determine that most cases of disease concentrated to certain streets, homes, and workplaces.
He suspected that the cause of the epidemic was a water pump where the public collected their drinking water, and strengthened his argument by asking ill people where they fetched their water from. Snow removed the handle from the water pump and thus reduced deaths significantly.
Further Snow examined how the number of cholera cases correlated to water quality in an area. He could show that people, who got the water downstream of central London, ran a significantly higher risk of cholera compared to those who got their water from the part of the Thames that had not passed the center of London. His belief that cholera is a waterborne disease was further reinforced when he managed to deduce the cholera epidemic in western Soho in 1854 to a pump on Broad Street.
John Snow is regarded as the father of epidemiology but he himself did not feel that his theory that cholera was a waterborne disease was accepted by politicians and the medical establishment.
During his lifetime, he was best known for his research on anesthesia and for having assisted Queen Victoria at two of her births. Only after Queen Victoria accepted the anesthesia during childbirth anesthetic became widely accepted.
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