# CPH Focus: Evidence-Based Approaches to Public Health: Epidemiology – Measures of Disease Frequency: Incidence and Prevalence

In this CPH Focus, we’ll dive deep into one of the fundamental topics in public health: **measures of disease frequency**, specifically **incidence** and **prevalence**. Understanding these concepts is crucial for the Certified in Public Health (CPH) exam and serves as a foundation for working in the public health field.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have a solid grasp of these epidemiological measures, how they are calculated, and when to use each one. We’ll also include practice questions with answers to help solidify your understanding.

## Table of Contents:

- Introduction to Epidemiology
- What are Measures of Disease Frequency?
- Understanding Incidence
- Incidence Rate
- Cumulative Incidence

- Understanding Prevalence
- Point Prevalence
- Period Prevalence

- Differences Between Incidence and Prevalence
- Why are Incidence and Prevalence Important in Public Health?
- Common Pitfalls and Misinterpretations
- Practice Questions
- Conclusion

## 1. Introduction to Epidemiology

**Epidemiology** is the study of how diseases are distributed across populations and what factors influence their spread. It is often described as the cornerstone of public health, as it provides critical insights that can guide policies, interventions, and research.

## 2. What are Measures of Disease Frequency?

Measures of disease frequency help public health professionals understand how often diseases occur within populations. These measures give insights into:

- How common a disease is (prevalence)
- How often new cases arise (incidence)

The two primary measures of disease frequency we’ll focus on are:

**Incidence****Prevalence**

Each provides different but complementary information about disease dynamics in a population.

## 3. Understanding Incidence

**Incidence** refers to the number of new cases of a disease or condition that occur in a specific population during a defined period. It helps public health professionals understand the **risk** of developing a disease.

### 3.1 Incidence Rate

The **incidence rate** is a measure of how quickly new cases of a disease arise in a population over time. It accounts for both the number of new cases and the amount of time that the population is at risk.

**Formula for Incidence Rate:**

[math] \text{Incidence Rate} = \frac{\text{Number of New Cases}}{\text{Total Person-Time at Risk}} [/math]

Where:

**New Cases**: The number of individuals who develop the disease during the specified time period.**Person-Time at Risk**: The sum of the time that each individual in the population is at risk of developing the disease.

**Example:**

In a study of 1,000 people observed for 1 year, 50 new cases of disease X were identified. The incidence rate would be:

[math] \text{Incidence Rate} = \frac{50}{1,000 \text{ person-years}} = 0.05 \text{ cases per person-year} [/math]

This means that for every 100 people observed for 1 year, 5 would develop disease X.

### 3.2 Cumulative Incidence

**Cumulative Incidence** is another way to express incidence, focusing on the **proportion** of a population that develops the disease over a specific period of time.

**Formula for Cumulative Incidence:**

[math] \text{Cumulative Incidence} = \frac{\text{Number of New Cases}}{\text{Total Population at Risk at the Start of the Study}} [/math]

**Example:**

If 50 people in a population of 1,000 develop disease X over 1 year, the cumulative incidence would be:

[math] \text{Cumulative Incidence} = \frac{50}{1,000} = 0.05 \text{ or } 5\% [/math]

This indicates that 5% of the population developed the disease during the study period.

### Key Points About Incidence:

- Incidence focuses on
**new cases**. - It helps determine the
**risk**of contracting a disease. - It is particularly useful for
**acute conditions**or diseases with clear onset.

## 4. Understanding Prevalence

**Prevalence** refers to the **total number of cases**, both new and existing, present in a population at a given time. It gives a snapshot of how widespread a disease is in a population.

### 4.1 Point Prevalence

**Point Prevalence** is the proportion of the population that has the disease at a specific point in time.

**Formula for Point Prevalence:**

[math] \text{Point Prevalence} = \frac{\text{Number of Existing Cases}}{\text{Total Population at the Same Point in Time}} [/math]

**Example:**

In a town of 1,000 people, 100 individuals currently have disease Y. The point prevalence would be:

[math] \text{Point Prevalence} = \frac{100}{1,000} = 0.1 \text{ or } 10\% [/math]

This means that 10% of the population had disease Y at that specific moment.

### 4.2 Period Prevalence

**Period Prevalence** measures how many people have the disease at any point during a specific period of time.

**Formula for Period Prevalence:**

[math] \text{Period Prevalence} = \frac{\text{Number of Cases (Old and New)} \text{ over a Time Period}}{\text{Total Population}} [/math]

**Example:**

If 100 people had disease Y at any time over a year in a population of 1,000, the period prevalence would be:

[math] \text{Period Prevalence} = \frac{100}{1,000} = 0.1 \text{ or } 10\% [/math]

### Key Points About Prevalence:

- Prevalence includes both
**new and existing cases**. - It helps determine how
**widespread**a disease is. - Prevalence is especially useful for
**chronic conditions**.

## 5. Differences Between Incidence and Prevalence

**Incidence**measures**new cases**over time and focuses on the**risk**of developing a disease.**Prevalence**measures**all cases**at a point in time or over a period and focuses on how**common**a disease is.

Measure | New or Existing Cases | Timeframe | Purpose |
---|---|---|---|

Incidence | New cases only | Over a specific period | Understand disease risk and rate of spread |

Prevalence | Both new and existing cases | At a point or over a period | Understand how widespread a disease is |

## 6. Why Are Incidence and Prevalence Important in Public Health?

Both incidence and prevalence are essential for understanding disease dynamics in populations and for planning health interventions.

**Incidence**helps identify**emerging health threats**and assess the effectiveness of interventions aimed at**preventing new cases**.**Prevalence**helps public health officials allocate resources for the**ongoing management**of diseases, especially those with long-term impacts, such as diabetes or HIV.

Knowing the difference between these measures helps professionals make data-driven decisions in both the short and long term.

## 7. Common Pitfalls and Misinterpretations

Understanding incidence and prevalence is straightforward, but there are a few common mistakes that people make:

**Confusing incidence and prevalence**: Remember that incidence is about**new cases**and risk, while prevalence is about how**common**a disease is.**Not considering population changes**: Both measures depend on the size and dynamics of the population. If the population changes significantly, it may affect the interpretation of incidence and prevalence.**Overlooking time frames**: Incidence is tied to a specific period, whereas prevalence can be a snapshot (point) or span a period.

## 8. Practice Questions

To reinforce your understanding, let’s go through some practice questions. Try answering these before checking the solutions.

### Question 1:

A city has a population of 50,000 people. Over the course of one year, 500 new cases of disease Z are reported. What is the incidence rate of disease Z per 1,000 people?

### Answer 1:

## Answer: Click to reveal

[math] \text{Incidence Rate} = \frac{500}{50,000} = 0.01 \text{ or } 1\% [/math]

So, the incidence rate is 10 new cases per 1,000 people.

### Question 2:

In a population of 100,000 people, 1,500 people have disease A at a given point in time. What is the point prevalence of disease A?

### Answer 2:

## Answer: Click to reveal

[math] \text{Point Prevalence} = \frac{1,500}{100,000} = 0.015 \text{ or } 1.5\% [/math]

So, the point prevalence is 1.5%.

### Question 3:

In a study, 200 people are tracked over 2 years. 20 new cases of disease B are reported during this period. What is the incidence rate per person-year?

### Answer 3:

## Answer: Click to reveal

[math] \text{Incidence Rate} = \frac{20}{200 \times 2} = \frac{20}{400} = 0.05 \text{ cases per person-year} [/math]

### Question 4:

A total of 100 cases of a disease were reported in a town of 10,000 people over 5 years. What is the cumulative incidence?

### Answer 4:

## Answer: Click to reveal

[math] \text{Cumulative Incidence} = \frac{100}{10,000} = 0.01 \text{ or } 1\% [/math]

## 9. Conclusion

In public health, understanding **incidence** and **prevalence** is essential for measuring the frequency of diseases, planning interventions, and making informed policy decisions. By mastering these concepts, you will be better prepared for the Certified in Public Health (CPH) exam and able to contribute to the improvement of population health outcomes.

Always remember:

**Incidence**is about new cases and risk.**Prevalence**is about how widespread a disease is.

### Final Tip for the CPH Exam:

Make sure you are comfortable calculating both incidence and prevalence and understand the different situations in which each measure is used. Practice with various types of populations and timeframes to ensure you’re ready for exam questions on this topic.

### Humanities Moment

The featured image for this CPH Focus session is Falaises En Normandie, by Gustave Loiseau (French, 1865–1935). Gustave Loiseau was a French Post-Impressionist painter known for his landscapes and Paris street scenes. Initially trained as a decorator, he later studied under painter Fernand Quignon and was influenced by artists like Paul Gauguin. Loiseau developed a unique cross-hatching technique and focused on painting natural landscapes, particularly capturing the changing seasons. His work, often compared to Claude Monet’s, also depicted daily life in Paris and Brittany. Loiseau exhibited widely and continued painting still-lifes in his later years. He passed away in Paris in 1935.

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