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Lesson 3: Measures of Risk

Summary and References

Because many of the variables encountered in field epidemiology are nominal-scale variables, frequency measures are used quite commonly in epidemiology. Frequency measures include ratios, proportions, and rates. Ratios and proportions are useful for describing the characteristics of populations. Proportions and rates are used for quantifying morbidity and mortality. These measures allow epidemiologists to infer risk among different groups, detect groups at high risk, and develop hypotheses about causes — that is, why these groups might be at increased risk.

The two primary measures of morbidity are incidence and prevalence.

  • Incidence rates reflect the occurrence of new disease in a population.
  • Prevalencereflects the presence of disease in a population.

A variety of mortality rates describe deaths among specific groups, particularly by age or sex or by cause.

The hallmark of epidemiologic analysis is comparison, such as comparison of observed amount of disease in a population with the expected amount of disease. The comparisons can be quantified by using such measures of association as risk ratios, rate ratios, and odds ratios. These measures provide evidence regarding causal relationships between exposures and disease.

Measures of public health impact place the association between an exposure and a disease in a public health context. Two such measures are the attributable proportion and vaccine efficacy.


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