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Fundamentals of Epidemiology I

Fall 2008

The Broad Steet Pump is an icon of epidemiology because of its role in the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London. Photo by Adam Bowie from Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.



Sukon Kanchanaraksa and Marie Diener-West

Offered By

Department of Epidemiology


Course Description

Fundamentals of Epidemiology I is the first half of a couse that introduces the basic concepts of epidemiology and biostatistics as applied to public health problems. Emphasis is placed on the principles and methods of epidemiologic investigation, appropriate summaries and displays of data, and the use of classical statistical approaches to describe the health of populations. Topics include the dynamic behavior of disease; usage of rates, ratios and proportions; methods of direct and indirect adjustment, and clinical life table which measures and describes the extent of disease problems. Various epidemiologic study designs for investigating associations between risk factors and disease outcomes are also introduced, culminating with criteria for causal inferences. The application of these disciplines in the areas of health services, screening, genetics, and environment policy are presented. The influence of epidemiology and biostatistics on legal and ethical issues are also discussed.

Fundamentals of Epidemiology II will be available on OCW in January 2009.

Course Objectives

After completion of Fundamentals of Epidemiology I and II, students will be able to apply principles of epidemiology and biostatistics to the prevention of disease and the improvement of health.

In order to achieve the course objectives, the student will:

  • Distinguish the roles and relationships between epidemiology and biostatistics in the prevention of disease and the improvement of health.
  • Compute basic descriptive statistics and explore data analytic methods.
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of epidemiologic methods and study design.
  • Combine appropriate epidemiological concepts and statistical methods.

After completing this course, the student will be able to demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Perform exploratory data analysis using descriptive statistics.
  • Evaluate morbidity and mortality using ratios, proportions, and rates.
  • Perform direct and indirect methods of adjustment of overall rates.
  • Construct clinical life table in epidemiologic studies.
  • Recognize the assumptions associated with construction of a life table.
  • Calculate probabilities and conditional probabilities of health-related events.
  • Calculate sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values.
  • Recognize and describe the elements in the design and conduct of a randomized clinical trial, a cohort study, a case-control study, and a cross-sectional study.
  • Calculate measures of association in identifying risk factors of diseases.
  • Calculate a chi-square statistic to test the significance of a measure of association and interpret it using probability concepts.
  • Identify biases and their consequences in published literature.
  • Describe criteria for characterizing the causality of associations.
  • Recognize the presence of effect modifiers.
  • Explain the use of epidemiology in the genetics application.
  • Explain the use of epidemiology in the evaluation of screening process.
  • Describe the impact of epidemiology on national and local policy.
  • Describe the influence of epidemiology on ethical and professional issues


This course has two required textbooks:

  1. Gordis, L. (2004). Epidemiology. Third edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders. (The second edition is also acceptable.)
  2. Pagano, M. and Gauvreau, K. (2000). Principles of Biostatistics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Repurposing OCW Content

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Submit a Case Study for Fundamentals of Epidemiology

  • The instructors of this course are using WikiEducator to collect case studies to illustrate different types of epidemiologic investigations.
  • The instructors are particularly interested in studies conducted in Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, and they are looking to OCW users to help them find the best examples.
  • Click here to visit WikiEducator and submit a case study by editing the wiki page. Registration is required to submit a case study.


    Module 1: Roles of Quantitative Methods in Public Health
    1 Biostatistics and Epidemiology within the Paradigm of Public Health (Diener-West) Lecture 1
    2 Epidemiologic Investigation (Kanchanaraksa) Lecture 2

    Submit a Case Study

    3 Exploratory Data Analysis (Diener-West) Lecture 3
    4 Tables and Graphs (Diener-West) Lecture 4
    5 Summary Measures [Ratio, Proportion, Rate] (Diener-West) Lecture 5
    6 Indices of Morbidity and Mortality (Kanchanaraksa) Lecture 6
    7 Direct and Indirect Methods of Adjustment (Diener-West) Lecture 7
    Module 3: Quantifying the Natural History of Disease
    8 Life Tables (Diener-West) Lecture 8
    9 Measures of Prognosis (Diener-West, Kanchanaraksa) Lecture 9
    Module 4: Probability Concepts and their Use in Evaluation of Diagnostic and Screening Tests
    10 Probability Concepts (Diener-West) Lecture 10
    11 Evaluation of Diagnostic and Screening Tests: Validity and Reliability (Kanchanaraksa) Lecture 11   Tell A Friend