Journal of the National Institute of Public Health
Online ISSN : 2432-0722
Print ISSN : 1347-6459
ISSN-L : 1347-6459
Disaster epidemiology:
Assessing the health impacts of environmental public health disasters
R. Svendsen Erik
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2018 Volume 67 Issue 1 Pages 123-132


Introduction: Although disaster epidemiology is essentially recognized as the use of epidemiology in disaster settings, it now has unique methods and tools applicable only within public health disaster settings. Herein I will briefly describe the history and development of disaster epidemiology, its unique characteristics, and illustrate its potential to both respond to and learn from public health disasters within the current literature.

Methods: This literature review was used to motivate the potential application of disaster epidemiology more extensively in the on-going disaster-related public health recovery and research within Fukushima after the 2011 radiological disaster, and preparedness activities to mitigate any such future event. The PubMed electronic database for medical journals was used exclusively to identify literature suitable for inclusion in the literature review paper using the following search terms anywhere in the article: disaster and epidemiology; “disaster epidemiology”.

Results: Disaster epidemiology can be used to understand the frequency and severity of disasters, to rapidly learn about the needs of the disaster population and intervene in those needs, and to learn how to minimize the public health impacts of future disasters: tracking, mitigating, and researching, accordingly. To date, the majority of journal articles have been focused on mitigating disasters (10 of the 19 papers).

Discussion: There was a consistent recognition of the applicability of epidemiology within disasters, as was evident in the large number of journal articles which included both the terms “epidemiology” and “disaster”. However, that did not translate over to an understanding of “disaster epidemiology” as a sub-discipline because only 19 articles were focused on that concept. Within those there was variability in how the term was being used. More work is needed to better educate the scientific and public health community about the unique niche which disaster epidemiology plays within public health disaster management and preparedness.

Conclusions: Disaster epidemiology is a unique sub-discipline which can help advance the tracking, mitigation, and research of public health disasters. Further training and development of this sub-discipline within epidemiology training programs could help reduce the burden of disasters on public health and advance our understanding of unique environmental exposures within disaster settings.

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© 2018 National Institute of Public Health, Japan
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