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    Virus in blood

    This introductory epidemiology course is intended for undergraduate- and graduate-level students of health sciences or public health. The course introduces students to the field and practice of epidemiology, and provides foundational knowledge as well as practical skills. All components of this training (like all NextGenU.org trainings) are free, including registration, learning, testing, and a certificate of completion.

    There are 8 modules to complete through online study and peer and mentored activities. The modules cover core topics in epidemiology, such as descriptive measures of mortality and morbidity, association and causation, study design, and critical evidence review, among other topics.

    There are practice quizzes in each module, and at the end of the course you’ll have a final exam, and a chance to give your assessment of this training. We will give you all the results of your assessments, such as your final exam and peer activities. We can report your testing information and share your work with anyone (your school, employer, etc.) that you request. We hope this is a wonderful learning experience for you, and that your assessments will teach us how we can make it even better.

    Select the “Next” button to begin Module 1: Introduction to Epidemiology


    This course was sponsored by the University of the Incarnate Word and was developed in partnership with the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Like all NextGenU courses, it is competency-based, using competencies from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health and the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region and uses learning resources from world-class academic and governmental organizations, such as the University of California, Berkeley, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. The course developer is Ashlee Shaw, MPH, with major contributions from Lindsay Galway, PhD and Eric Mintz, PhD. We also gratefully acknowledge the contributions of: Michael Beckett; Keenan Federico, BA; and Kaylin Woods, BSc, MPH, MD.

  • Module 1: Introduction to Epidemiology

    H1N1 headline

    This module will introduce you to key concepts in epidemiology and will set the stage for the rest of the course. You will become familiar with the history and scope of epidemiology and its contributions to our understanding of health and illness.  Finally, you will connect with and learn from a health specialist, public health practitioner, or public health researcher that uses epidemiology in his/her work to gain a better understanding of the role of epidemiology in public health.

    Competencies covered in this module:
    • Apply the basic terminology and definitions of epidemiology
    • Know and understand the main features of the past, the present and the estimated future of the development of population health 
    • Explain the importance of epidemiology in informed scientific, ethical, economic and political discussions related to health issues
    • Lesson 1:

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      Learning Objectives:

      Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

      • Outline the historical achievements in the field of epidemiology and their contributions to public health
      • Describe the historical evolution of epidemiology
      • Explain the scope, role, and importance of epidemiology as it pertains to public health
      • Define the basic terminology used in the field of epidemiology
      • Discuss the importance of epidemiologic-based evidence in public health decision-making
    • Module 2: Descriptive Measures of Mortality and Morbidity

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      Module 2 introduces the terms measures of mortality and morbidity, the building blocks used in epidemiology to describe the health of a population. You will be introduced to various sources of data that are used by epidemiologists to generate these measures, including country-specific vital registries. You will also have the opportunity to calculate, interpret, and apply measures of disease, disability, and death such as incidence rate and prevalence.  Finally, you will learn to describe a public health problem in terms of magnitude, person, time, and place.

      Competencies covered in this module:
      • Identify the main sources of epidemiological data 
      • Describe a public health problem in terms of magnitude, person, time and place
      • Calculate basic epidemiology measures
      • Lesson 1:

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        Learning Objectives:

        Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

        • Describe and provide examples of measures of morbidity and mortality used in epidemiology
        • Interpret and calculate basic epidemiological measures used to describe the health of a population including measures of morbidity and mortality
        • Interpret and distinguish between incidence and prevalence
        • Understand vital registration systems and discuss their limitations
        • Understand the relationships between population health measures and different population characteristics, such as total fertility rate and income over time
        • Find and interpret health indicator data
      • Module 3: Quantifying and Comparing Public Health Measures

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        In Module 2, you studied the mortality and morbidity measures commonly used to describe the health of a population. In Module 3 you will learn how to compare measures of mortality and morbidity across populations. More specifically, you will learn about the main measures of associations used in epidemiology, namely the relative risk and odds ratios. Furthermore, you will learn to calculate and interpret these ratios. You will also become familiar with the calculations and utility of rate standardization. Standardization allows you to compare rates between populations with differing demographic characteristics. Finally, you will use graphs and tables to identify trends in epidemiological data. The knowledge you gain in Module 3 is key for understanding the causes of health states in a population and an important step towards developing and implementing health policies and interventions.

        Competencies covered in this module:
        • Interpret disease and public health events and trends from time series data
        • Know and understand the main measures of associations between exposures and outcomes (relative risk and odds ratio)
        • Lesson 1:

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          Learning Objectives:

          Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

          • Generate and interpret graphs and tables in order to identify trends in epidemiological data
          • Explain the two commonly used methods of age standardization; direct and indirect
          • Calculate and interpret relative risk and odds ratios
          • Express relative risks and odds ratios in words
          • Discuss the generation and implications of health inequities between local and global populations 
        • Module 4: Association, Causation, and Risk Factors

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          Module 4 examines the important concepts of association, causation, and risk factors. You will learn the theories of causation relevant to epidemiology. Furthermore, you will learn how to distinguish between risk factors that are either associated with disease or cause disease. You will explore the different risk factors for infectious and chronic diseases. You will also be introduced to the social determinants of health and how they interact with risk factors to influence health and disease status.

          Competencies covered in this module:
          • Know and understand the risk factors influencing the health of a population (locally and globally), e.g. obesity, tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, IVDU, HIV, pollution, and social factors/inequality
          • Know and understand the relationships between society, family, physical environment, genetics and biological health/disease status
          • Lesson 1:

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            Learning Objectives:

            Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

            • Define and discuss risk factors
            • Discuss the theories causation relevant to epidemiology
            • Relate the epidemiological triad model of infectious disease transmission to public health issues and interventions
            • Explain the difference between association and causation 
            • Discuss the causal criteria that can be used to establish causation 
            • Explain the social determinants of health
          • Module 5: Study Designs in Epidemiology

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            Epidemiologic research employs a variety of study designs in order to examine the distribution and determinants of disease. The ultimate goal in epidemiology is to prevent disease, to promote recovery, and to maintain and encourage a healthy state. In this module, you will learn to identify and apply different study designs, as well as to describe their strengths and limitations in public health practice. You will also be introduced to the concepts of bias, confounding, validity (internal and external) and generalizability. Study design influences internal and external validity and consequently the conclusions that may be drawn from epidemiological studies. Therefore, this module will help you to make informed study design choices that maximize the potential for positive public health impact while minimizing error.

            Competencies covered in this module:
            • Describe the main types of epidemiological designs and discuss the pros and cons of each
            • Know and understand the concepts of bias, confounding, validity (internal and external) and generalizability
            • Lesson 1:

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              Learning Objectives:

              Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

              • Distinguish between observational and experimental study designs
              • Describe and identify the applications, strengths, and limitations of: ecological studies, cross-sectional studies, case-control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials
              • Define and describe the different types of errors, biases, and confounding that may exist in an epidemiological study
              • Explain ways to control for confounding in either the design and or the analysis phases of an epidemiological study
            • Module 6: Public Health Screening and Surveillance

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              Module 6 is a guided exploration of screening and surveillance in both epidemiology and public health practice. In this module, you will be introduced to the systems and approaches used to generate epidemiologic data, track patterns of disease over time, and detect new cases and emerging epidemics. You will also be introduced to the basic concepts and the terminology that underlie public health screening programs and surveillance systems. You will also learn about the different types of surveillance systems and screening approaches, their strengths and limitations, as well as their applications to specific health issues.

              Competencies covered in this module:
              • Know and understand the basic principles, methods, types and components of epidemiological surveillance and surveillance systems (such as organization, methodology, technology, quality, consistency, resources, availability, etc.)
              • Identify the principles and limitations of public health screening programs
              • Lesson 1:

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                Learning Objectives:

                Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

                • Explain basic concepts of disease transmission and describe patterns of endemic and epidemic disease spread
                • Outline the different approaches used for screening in public health and critically assess each of their strengths and limitations in terms of lead time, length bias, sensitivity and specificity
                • Summarize the different public health surveillance systems and their application to various health concerns, including environmental disasters
                • Name key changes in international health regulations over the past decade
              • Module 7: Critical Evaluation of Epidemiologic Evidence

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                To translate epidemiological research into effective action, the quality of both the research and the evidence must be carefully considered. This allows for study results to be used appropriately to inform public health policy and to design better practices.  Module 7 provides both the tools and opportunity to learn how to systematically evaluate the strength and limitations of epidemiological reports and research. 

                Competencies covered in this module:
                • Evaluate the strengths and limitations of epidemiological reports
                • Draw appropriate inferences from epidemiological data
                • Lesson 1:

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                  Learning Objectives:

                  Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

                  • Systematically critique a scientific epidemiology paper
                  • Apply criteria to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of epidemiological reports and research
                • Module 8: Applied Epidemiology- From Evidence to Practice and Policy

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                  Module 8 describes how the measures, concepts, methods, and tools you have learned about in the previous modules can be translated into public health practice and policy. This module describes several cases of the successful translation of epidemiological research into action thereby improving health. You will become familiar with the strategies as well as the tools necessary for facilitating a of knowledge translation process, including effective health messaging and multi-stakeholder communication techniques. One classic and concrete example of applying epidemiological methods to promote public health is during an outbreak investigation, where evidence is rapidly generated to identify and control the source of a disease outbreak. This module will describe the steps that need to be taken in a disease outbreak investigation and will provide interactive opportunities for you to improve your outbreak investigation skills.

                  Competencies covered in this module:
                  • Suggest relevant public health interventions based on evidence from both empirical epidemiological population studies and from qualitative studies
                  • Communicate evidence from both empirical epidemiological population studies and from qualitative studies to a lay audience, professionals, and decision makers at the national, regional and local level
                  • Comprehend basic ethical and legal principles pertaining to the collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of epidemiological data
                  • Lesson 1:

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                    Learning Objectives:

                    Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

                    • Describe the approaches for translating epidemiological evidence into public health practice and policy
                    • Explain and apply the population approach to disease prevention
                    • Apply the four ‘stages of disease prevention’
                    • Demonstrate effective health promotion messaging and communicate  epidemiological research information to key stakeholders
                    • Analyze the shape and significance of the different types of epidemic curves and illustrate the necessary steps to be taken in an outbreak investigation
                    • Discuss the ethical principles of public health practice and the collection and dissemination of epidemiologic data
                    • Recommend public health prevention activities based on epidemiological evidence.