Descriptive epidemiology deals with describing disease patterns using three major categories: person, place, or time (Friis & Sellers, 2021). Consider the following example
Over the last weekend, six people went to the Alcan City Hospital emergency room with similar symptoms. The laboratory results for the six patients were indicative of an infection due to Escherichia coli (E. coli). Patient interviews revealed they had all eaten a meal at Sam’s Sandwich Food Truck during the Alcan City Fair within 48 hours of going to the hospital. Further inquiries by the Alcan City public health officials identified that the source of the E. coli contamination was the lettuce that Sam’s had purchased from M&L Produce (a produce supplier located in Tempe, Arizona). Epidemiologists from the Arizona State Health Department determined that the lettuce that M&L supplied Sam’s was from a farm located in Xion, California (the key supplier for M&L Produce).
Aside from the six patients who sought treatment, epidemiologists tracked down and conducted interviews with 400 of the fair attendees to identify any potential cases who did not seek treatment and compare data with those who attended but did not become ill. Interview questions pertained to descriptive aspects of the outbreak (person, place, and time). Analysis of data collected on foods eaten allowed the epidemiologists to narrow it down and identify sandwiches served by Sam’s Sandwich Food Truck at the fair on Saturday as the source of infection. Alcan City public health officials were quick to visit the food truck to inquire into their food management and handling. The food truck owner was cooperative and helpful in providing licensing, permits, operations, and sales information.
Descriptive epidemiologic studies are often conducted as precursors to analytic studies. Epidemiologic concepts are used to gather data to better understand and evaluate health trends in populations. Data, such as characteristics of the persons affected, place where an incident occurred, and time of occurrence, are collected and analyzed to look for patterns in an effort to identify emerging health problems. It was in just this way that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was first identified.
In this Discussion, you will apply the epidemiologic concepts of time, place, and person to a specific population health problem. You will also consider methods for obtaining data to study an issue.
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