Epidemiology is the study of diseases and other health problems in human populations, particularly contagious diseases. Epidemiologists attempt to figure out when and where a disease first enters a human population, how it spreads, and how to prevent further transmission or incidence of the disease. They also study noninfectious diseases such as diabetes that can be related to the diet or behaviors of a population. Epidemiology involves a lot of detective work as well as statistical analysis. Epidemiologists can find work in government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public health research institutions, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, universities, and more. An epidemiologist has a Master of Public Health (MPH), an M.D., or a Ph.D. degree.
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Epidemiologist in Action
Dr. Ben Muneta
Title: Medical Epidemiologist, Indian
Education: M.D., Stanford University
In 1993 a mystery disease began to kill people in the southwestern United States. One of the experts that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) consulted was Dr. Ben Muneta. Dr. Muneta is an epidemiologist, a scientist who studies the causes, transmission, and control of diseases within a population. He works at the Indian Health Service National Epidemiology Program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Dr. Muneta consulted a traditional Navajo healer. From him, Dr. Muneta learned that the disease was associated with extra rainfall, which had caused the pion trees to produce more nuts than usual. This in turn had led to a population explosion among mice that feed on these nuts.
Using this lead, CDC researchers determined that the disease was caused by hantavirus, a virus spread through the droppings of deer mice. With further research, Dr. Muneta confirmed that some Navajo healers had even predicted the 1993 outbreak.