For a few weeks, a certain virus that many of us thought was not going to be that bad has ended up giving us a “pleasant” surprise by inviting us to stay at home. Not out of laziness or because it hasn’t been a good day, but because it turns out that the street is, right now, potentially contagious. Epidemiology is the study of
Given the alarming situation in which we find ourselves, it is not surprising that people are wondering about the symptoms, incidence, progression of infections, incubation and elimination period and other factors of the COVID-19 virus.
These questions have their own field of study. Epidemiology is the biomedical science that is responsible for studying the distribution , frequency and conditions for the appearance and progression of a disease, and then we will see more in depth what it is about.
What is epidemiology?
Epidemiology, (from the Greek “epi”, “about;” demos “,” people “; and” logos “,” science “) is the study of the appearance and distribution of events, states and processes related to health in the population. In other words, it is about medical science that studies diseases and their evolution in the population as a whole . Epidemiologists study the distribution, frequency, and factors that influence and determine the progression of diseases in a group of people.
The position of epidemiology in the biomedical sciences is very important, since it serves as a bridge between the health sciences and the social sciences . It integrates both biomedical and social methods and principles to study health, control diseases in the population, and study their socio-economic and biomedical effects. Epidemiology is the study of
Although epidemiology originally arose to study infectious disease epidemics, such as cholera, Spanish flu or plague, today diseases not necessarily due to bacteria and viruses are also included, such as lung cancer. cause of smoking, addictions, in addition to the appearance of mental disorders such as bipolar, anorexia nervosa or depression, among others.
What is taken into account when studying diseases?
Epidemiologists, when studying a disease, whether caused by a live pathogen such as bacteria or by habits in the population, such as sedentary lifestyle and smoking, take into account a series of patterns of the medical condition or psychiatric to study:
With time , reference is made to when it arises, especially if it is a disease with a possible contagious cause , which may have its highest points at a certain time of the year.
It is the physical place, such as a city, a country, the characteristics of the area where there have been more cases … Epidemiology is the study of
People refer to those who are more likely to manifest a certain biomedical condition, that is, the risk group.
Typically, in contagious diseases, the groups most at risk are newborns and the elderly.
The epidemiological methodology uses the observational scientific method because this discipline, to increase its knowledge, has to use real cases that occurred in the population. That is to say, look at how many new cases of the disease there are, what individual characteristics make those cases manifest the disease, what has caused that in another place there has not been such an incidence …
The epidemiological method uses mainly quantitative techniques. Epidemiological studies do not alter or manipulate the factors that act on people , unlike a laboratory experiment, in which the characteristics of the person, the type of stimuli or environmental factors to which they are subjected, among others, are controlled. .
Epidemiology is a fundamental area of biomedical sciences, since it allows us to know the development of medical conditions, whether or not they are caused by infectious agents. This discipline has the following objectives. Epidemiology is the study of
1. Establish the magnitude of the disease
It aims to measure what happens in the population, what are the mortality rates, incidence and prevalence of diseases , as well as the prevalence of risk factors.
All this serves to know the specific characteristics of health or disease in a population, in addition to being able to monitor over time how changes in these characteristics are taking place.
For example, epidemiology would study why there is more mortality in a certain region than in another, what genetic and environmental factors make a population more vulnerable, or what eating habits or habits that imply risk would explain the incidence of the medical condition.
2. Identify the determinants of the disease
As we have already seen, since its inception, epidemiology has tried to discover the reason for the appearance of a certain state of health and what causes affect the pathological process.
In essence, it is responsible for identifying factors that imply risk when it comes to manifesting a medical illness or a psychological disorder .
3. Complete clinical charts
In clinical medicine, epidemiology has a very useful application, since it allows to specify, by means of epidemiological and statistical criteria, what the patient is suffering. Epidemiology is the study of
An example of this was the case of rapeseed oil poisoning . Through epidemiological research, it was possible to discover that the disease manifested by thousands of people was caused by consuming that particular oil.
4. Detect new diseases
The appearance of new cases of an unknown disease is studied using the epidemiological method.
This was the case with HIV / AIDS . Patients were found to develop a rare pneumonia, which only affected people who had symptoms of immunosuppression.
5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the health intervention
Epidemiology is applied to determine the efficacy of any type of health intervention , be it prevention or treatment.
6. Contribute to health planning
Although the previous applications already contribute to health planning, epidemiology is also used, specifically, to know the specific needs of health services, for example, by designing health plans.
In addition, it is also used for the evaluation of results after health intervention policies , analyzing the objectives set in the previous plans.
7. Contribute to training
Epidemiology not only aims to find out how a disease occurs, what is its prevention, what population is at risk and other aspects directly related to the biomedical condition. Epidemiology is the study of
It also aims to train health professionals so that, in the event that the disease appears, they know, consulting the biomedical literature and knowing the symptoms of a health condition in question, what they should do and how to prepare.
Some fundamental terms
Within the language of epidemiology, some terms are collected that have a specific meaning when talking about pathological processes. We will take a closer look at some of them below.
A disease is considered an epidemic when there is a very high number of people who present this medical condition simultaneously .
A pandemic is an epidemic of great proportions, which spreads widely, becoming present throughout the world. An example of this is the case of COVID-19 in March 2020. Epidemiology is the study of
3. Endemic disease
An endemic disease is one that occurs with the greatest number in a certain population , although it does not necessarily imply that it has manifested itself in all individuals.
An example of an endemic disease is the case of thalassemia, a type of anemia found in many Mediterranean countries, with more cases being found in southern Spain and Italy.
4. Incidence of a disease
This term refers to the number of new cases of an individual disease in a population for a certain period of time.
The prevalence of a disease is given by the total number of new and existing cases detected in a specific population , also during a certain period of time.
An outbreak is understood as the appearance of new cases in a specific region, generally during a short period of time. Epidemiology is the study of
When we speak of an outbreak, it is indicated that there are more cases than previously, although it does not necessarily have to refer to the appearance of a new disease. It may be that the same disease occurred previously, but very sporadically.
About contagious diseases
To cause disease, a pathogen, such as a bacterium or a virus, needs to find an individual to host. There, it grows and reproduces, affecting the health of the individual and producing the symptoms of the disease .
It should be said that, although there are diseases that are deadly, in most contagious diseases, if the host dies, so does its tenant, which is not beneficial. If they have to kill the host, these organisms must first be able to reproduce and pass to another organism, because otherwise they will end up becoming extinct.
It is for this reason that most host-dependent pathogens need to adapt and coexist with the individual in which they are hosted . It is not a symbiotic relationship, but a parasitism, since the host individual, even if he does not die, will be harmed. Epidemiology is the study of
The pathogen, when it is already well adapted in the individual, takes what it needs to continue living and uses the host’s own biological structures to feed itself or reproduce, as would be the case of viruses with cells during viral reproduction. The damages that these pathogens can cause are various, ranging from simple temporary symptoms to chronic infections that must be treated urgently and intensely.