Epidemiology is the area of healthcare that majorly deals with the distribution, incidence and possible control of diverse illness and health conditions. Paolo Boffetta mentions that while epidemiologists do belong to the medical field, they are not like typical physicians. Such professionals usually work in controlled conditions in a laboratory. Boffetta himself is an adjunct professor of epidemiology, making him a great candidate to shed some light on the role and career of an epidemiologist. He mentions that in case a disease breaks out or there is an epidemic, epidemiologists are ideally the ones to go into the field to study the disease-causing organisms directly, and subsequently diverse the relevant authorities on control strategies.
Due to the nature of their work, epidemiologists are often referred to as disease detectives. They are tasked with a host of important duties like finding the cause of an ailment, identifying the people who are at risk of suffering from it, and finding ways to control or stop the spread or prevent it from happening. Dr. Paolo Boffetta mentions that the duties of epidemiologists become especially crucial in times of unexpected outbreaks of a disease, such as COVID-19. This does not mean that they only work during a crisis. The work of epidemiologists is valuable at all times as they are often able to predict future disease occurrences, and subsequently make recommendations on preventative measures.
In the sphere of epidemiology, people are required to study patterns of frequency, causes and effects of ailments in the human population. This study provides scientific footings for evidence-based medicines, while facilitating the placement of strategies for improvement in public health. In many scenarios, epidemiology is considered to be the cornerstone of modern public health research, and is relevant to areas like social sciences, biostatistics and biology.
Paolo Boffetta underlines that epidemiologists are the ones to design, implement and manage studies of varying types of pathogens. The work they do can be related to pandemics, such as the recent COVID-19 catastrophe, or even isolated outbreaks of wholly unrelated diseases. There are several mundane situations, such as minor salmonella outbreaks, in which epidemiologists are the ones responsible for containing the outbreak, investigating the cause and determining the various factors that are in play. These professionals ideally collect and analyze the data, while making sure that the relevant authorities have the information they require about the situation.
Usually, after creating a response strategy, epidemiologists go on to collect further data to gauge the effectiveness of the strategy. Dr. Paolo Boffetta points out that in case a vaccine is developed, epidemiologists not only have to track its effectiveness, but also try to be on a lookout of any mutated strains of the disease on which the vaccine may not work. Epidemiologists play an extremely crucial role in helping the authorities to keep the public informed of ways to maintain and improve public health.