What is Epidemiology?
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of
health problems in specified populations and applying the learned
information to control the health problems. It is the scientific method of
problem solving used by "disease detectives"—epidemiologists,
laboratory scientists, statisticians, physicians and other health care
providers, and public health professionals—to get to the root of health
problems in a community, whether the problem is a measles outbreak on a
small college campus or a global influenza pandemic, an increase in
homicide in a single community, a national surge in violence, or a
localized or widespread rise in cancer.
Like investigators at the scene of a crime, disease detectives begin by
looking for clues. They systematically gather information about what
happened—Who is sick? What are their symptoms? When did they get sick?
Where could they have been exposed to the illness? Using statistical
analysis, investigators study the answers to these questions to find out
how a particular health problem was introduced into a community.
Disease detectives then use what they have learned to prevent further
illness. For example, when in 1993 more than 200 people in Washington
State developed similar gastrointestinal symptoms, investigators traced
the illnesses to undercooked hamburgers from a fast-food chain. Warnings
to cook beef until it is no longer pink halted the outbreak and prevented
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Why Teach Epidemiology?
Epidemiology is an objective, scientific method of problem solving
based on quantitative analysis. Teaching epidemiology
- improves students' reasoning and research skills,
- enhances their ability to analyze and solve complex problems, and
- sensitizes them to good health practices.
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More About EXCITE
A CDC educational tool
EXCITE was developed by CDC to teach students about the causes and
prevention of disease and injury while improving their research and
analytic skills. Students learn the scientific method employed by
epidemiologists—or disease detectives—and use what they have learned
to solve real disease outbreaks on their own. This hands-on experience
shows them the relevance of the methods of science to the real world.
Materials currently on the Web site are targeted to middle and high school
classes, but they are adaptable for all ages, from elementary school
students through graduate school.
Applicable across curricula
Although EXCITE is especially applicable in general science and
mathematics classes, it is well suited to team teaching and adapts easily
to other areas, including biology, environmental science, health
education, social science, language arts, computer science, and family
consumer science. Creative teachers have used EXCITE to teach data
interpretation and graphics production, to build skills in nonfiction
writing, and to raise awareness of current events. The benefits of using
EXCITE in the classroom extend to teaching cooperative learning, team
building, and group problem solving. Experience with epidemiology has even
inspired some students to consider careers in public health.
A history of success
Since its inception in 1996, EXCITE has been
- incorporated into National Science Olympiad
- included in the CORE Institutes of the Woodrow Wilson National
Fellowship's Leadership Program of Teachers
- incorporated into the 21st Century Schoolhouse, an international
web-based educational program currently reaching 11 countries
- incorporated into the Georgia Governor's Honors Program;
- introduced to teachers and administrators at the district level in
- exhibited at annual conferences of the Georgia Science Teachers'
- presented in training workshops for middle and high school teachers,
- taught in numerous classrooms across the country.
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Goals and Objectives
EXCITE is designed to teach
- the basic principles and methods of epidemiology as they relate to
- the use of epidemiological approaches for practical, real-life
problem solving; and
- the role of "disease detectives"—epidemiologists,
laboratory scientists, statisticians, physicians, and other health
care providers, and public health professionals—in detection,
control, and prevention of community health problems.
After successfully completing EXCITE materials, students will be
- identify and interpret the meaning of risk factors for health
problems, including infectious and chronic diseases, injury, and
- use comparative reasoning to evaluate risks for health conditions
- apply the scientific method of investigating a disease outbreak to
real-life situations affecting health
- understand and use basic concepts of mathematics and statistics in
assessing health risks
- develop an epidemiological case definition
- design a basic case-control study for investigating a disease
- define and use selected medical and epidemiological terms, and
- describe the epidemiology and clinical features of selected health
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