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Epidemiology and Public Health are two different fields of studies but are very much inter-related. The relationship of these two fields of science can be compared to the proverbial half-filled-glass-half-empty-glass-of-water point of view. Generally, they share the same purpose, which is to prevent the outbreak of communicable diseases but the functions of an epidemiologist and a public health worker are totally opposite to what the other does. However, as opposite are their approach to each other, epidemiology and public health should work side by side in order to safeguard the general health of the population. When diseases like the ones caused by the SARS and H1N1 viruses kills a number of people in so short a time, leading epidemiologists and public health authorities are called in to contain these viruses.
Epidemiology largely deals with the understanding of how often and why diseases occur in different groups of different people. Generally, Epidemiology is not offered as an undergraduate course by most universities but rather as postgraduate courses. Usually, epidemiologist have different backgrounds, among them are usually microbiologists and veterinarians. Those specializing in Epidemiology should have extensive laboratory work experience and should be willing to do field work as sometimes there are now equipments portable enough to carry out analysis of pertinent data.
On the other hand, Public Health deals with prevention of outbreak of diseases and promotion of health of the populace. Since, public health is more concern with the overall well-being of the population, individual cases are not prioritized unless a particular disease has been contacted by a number of patients. Public health actually has a wide scope to cover. During times of outbreaks, they need to work side by side with epidemiologists since it is their responsibility to look after the health of the population. Another major task of the Public Health unit is to inform the public whatever piece of information regarding how to safeguard their health. Disseminating information sometimes calls for a massive campaign so that’s why public relations specialists are also key personnel of public health units. From virus or disease outbreak alerts to the simple proper way of washing one’s hands or anything the public that needs to know, it is important that the message or alert warnings reaches the public in time.
In third world countries, epidemiologists and public health units are much busier than their counterparts in developed nations. This is because incidences of outbreaks of diseases like cholera, malaria, dengue, high fever and among others occur more frequently. These occurrences are more frequent because developed nations have more efficient methods of educating the public about public health issues. Third world countries tend to have remote areas that are hard to reach and the illiteracy level are quite high making the health education programs of the government more often ineffective.
However, since most diseases are already known and containing them are easy as long as the disease or virus have been identified, it is really during outbreaks of unknown diseases that epidemiologists and public health units are most worried about. Some strains of viruses would take time to be identified and by the time the new strain of virus got identified, sometimes hundreds of lives have already been claimed.
Those who would like to embark on a career specifically in saving millions of lives from deadly viruses like SARS and H1N1, acquiring a medical science related undergraduate course would be the first order of battle and then specialize in an epidemiology and public health unit course later on.