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September 19, 2021

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What is in a Pattern?

By Karen Kier
Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

What is in a pattern? Is there a science behind patterns? The shell of a snail is a great example of how nature contains patterns that can be explained by math. The pattern found in a snail's shell can be explained by a phenomenon known as Fibonacci numbers. In addition, our brains naturally attempt to combine information to form patterns to make decisions quickly. With repeated exposure to information, our brain tries to simplify decisions by forming patterns.

So how does understanding patterns impact medicine and public health? The study of patterns related to public health is known as epidemiology. An epidemiologist is a person who studies or is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, prevalence, distribution, and control of diseases. Incidence is the number of new cases of a disease or condition. Prevalence is the number of total cases of a disease or condition so it includes new and currently existing cases. These are numbers that are reported on websites for COVID-19. The distribution of disease is the pattern of how a disease is being spread or transmitted. Ultimately, public health officials and epidemiologists want to find the cause of disease and then how to prevent it from inflicting sickness and deaths. Dr. John Snow is often considered the father of epidemiology. In 1854, Dr. Snow was able to put together patterns of a deadly cholera outbreak in London. He was able to determine a source of polluted water was what caused the disease even though the microscopic organism was not visible to scientists at the time. His discovery helped to reduce the risk of disease spread by water.

In 1919, Dr. Thomas Dyer Tuttle evaluated the patterns of the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak as a scientist and public health official. He recommended social distancing and face masks while cancelling social gatherings. The science of looking at patterns to improve public health was in full effect. You might have noticed that Dr. Tuttle is not mentioned in many history books. Why? He was a very polarizing figure who lost his job for making those recommendations. Sound familiar? His recommendations ultimately were proven correct and did result in reducing deaths associated with the pandemic.

One of the best examples of epidemiology at work is polio that was a global issue from the early 1900s until 1970s. Understanding the cause and spread of the disease ultimately resulted in a polio vaccine in the 1950s. By developing a vaccine against polio, the United States has eradicated this disease. The polio vaccine caused similar controversy with its introduction to the market much like the current issues with the COVID-19 vaccine. What we learned over time with the help of public health analysis of patterns is that the vaccine was highly effective and allowed us to eliminate the threat.

We are far more sophisticated today in our analysis of patterns and the ability to share information from around the world. The patterns tell us how disease is transmitted and prevented. The data are compelling that the COVID-19 vaccines can help us to eliminate the COVID-19 spread. Maps clearly show us that areas with high vaccination rates have the lowest spread of COVID-19. The vaccine allows us a mechanism to prevent the disease versus other therapies that are only available to treat an outbreak. The number of COVID-19 cases are rising fast in those individuals who are not vaccinated. Some cases are being reported in individuals who have been vaccinated but usually not as severe. Some early pattern data indicates those individuals who had the natural infection and then received a vaccine have the greatest protection from the delta variant. Public health officials will still collect data for further analysis and refinement to make the best decisions to protect the population. The science of epidemiology for the win!

The Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University has several experts in public health and epidemiology. The combination of public health with drug information provides an excellent means to discuss issues related to preventing disease including vaccine effectiveness and safety. Talk to us!

The Ohio Northern University Drug and Health Information Center continues to monitor the world literature to bring the most current news to our local area. The website to submit a question to the DHIC is https://www.onu.edu/student-life/health-and-wellness-resources/onu-healt....

Feel free to call the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy or talk to your health care professional for more information. ONU HealthWise is offering walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccines. Call the pharmacy to get more information on how you can get vaccinated. If you are still unsure about the vaccines, please contact us so that we can answer your questions.