The process of epidemiologic investigation can be used as a basis for an interactive game to teach students how the public health sector operates in the situation of an outbreak. The game “Outbreak at Watersedge” leads a player through a series of events in order to find the source of a public health issue (“Outbreak at Watersedge,” 2004). The player is introduced to a number of characters each of whom has a specific role in the process of detecting the issue and helps the player to move further with the investigation. The game introduces a method of identifying the source of an outbreak in the city of Watersedge. The problem, later established to be Cryptosporidium, is located through collaboration between an epidemiologist, an environmental health specialist, a microbiologist, a public health nurse, and some other specialists. The player uses descriptive epidemiology and interprofessional teamwork in order to find the source of the epidemic and develop a logical structure for the investigation as a result.
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The central issue of the game is the parasite called Cryptosporidium that can cause gastrointestinal and respiratory problems in humans (Ryan, Fayer, & Xiao, 2014). The primary symptom of this infection is diarrhea. The parasite can enter people’s bodies through contaminated water and interaction with infected animals and individuals. It causes a highly infectious disease, Cryptosporidiosis, which can be easily transferred from one contaminated person or animal to another. In the game, the city’s residents are becoming infected with Cryptosporidium parasite through the contaminated water fountain located near a public beach. The fountain was supplied with water from an old well and had old pipes and a broken filter. The old plumbing system isolated the parasite which entered the pipes because of recent heavy rains. The public was exposed to contaminated water through the fountain itself and drinks that were made from its water by the near concession stand.
The Epidemiological Process
This logical sequence of events is established by the player with the help of descriptive epidemiology. This process uses various data connected to the issue and distinguishes major patterns and variables that can lead one to find the reason of the problem (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). According to the CDC (2018), descriptive epidemiology follows a number of procedures. First, it collects all information pertinent to the case and defines its limitations and unusual characteristics. In the game, the player is introduced to the specialists who advise him or her to review the interviews of infected individuals. Thus, the player is able to access data from patients and locate the latest visited places in the city. Moreover, data gathering also includes photographing significant places and objects in the area of possible contamination, collecting water samples, and interviewing persons who work or live in the area. Through information gathering, the player is able to create a set of patterns to locate the issue’s source.
In order to find common places that the infected people used in recent days, the game introduces a mapping technique. By using the collected information, the player pinpoints locations visited by people most frequently and reveals the central place connected to the problem. According to the CDC (2018), this type of investigation is called a spot map. Most relevant locations are pinpointed on a map of the area and reviewed to find the place with most recorded visits. These places can show where people live, work, or spend their free time. In the game, all patients reported having visited the city’s part in the last several days. While they also visited other locations, this one becomes the connecting point for all cases. This process is a common tactic used in descriptive epidemiology.
Epidemiologists have to describe the 5W’s of the problem: who, what, where, when, and why (CDC, 2018). Here, the “where” part of the puzzle is found. The time of infection is also located with the help of interviews of infected persons who stated that they visited the park to participate in the local cleaning event. Moreover, they also mentioned drinking water from the fountain near the beach and punch from the concession stand, helping the player to establish the “why” of the health problem. The reason of the issue is further investigated through sampling and testing of all local water sources.
After finding the contaminated source and discussing the possible reasons with the team of professionals, the player is able to recollect the progression of events that led to the outbreak. The process of using descriptive epidemiology often includes the investigation of infected persons. This activity is reasonable if the health issue can be affected by individuals’ personal characteristics such as age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status (CDC, 2018). However, in the game, the infection affects people of all groups regardless of their age or sex. Therefore, this classification is unnecessary.
The use of descriptive epidemiology allows medical professionals to find reasons for outbreaks and epidemics by collecting and analyzing all pertaining data. This process engages people working in different fields and encourages interprofessional collaboration. In the game “Outbreak at Watersedge,” the player learns how to find a source of the infection by gathering data, working with evidence, interviewing infected individuals, and establishing the chain of events leading to the problem’s occurrence.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Principles of epidemiology. Web.
Outbreak at Watersedge. (2004). Web.
Ryan, U. N. A., Fayer, R., & Xiao, L. (2014). Cryptosporidium species in humans and animals: Current understanding and research needs. Parasitology, 141(13), 1667-1685.