University of North Carolina School of Public Health
Department of Epidemiology

EPID600/EPID160, Principles of Epidemiology for Public Health

Course content (enrolled students - please see the Sakai website)

The course is organized into topic modules (see below). Each lasts about a week.


A weekly 50-70 minute lecture provides an overview of the topic. These are available as online recordings with slide presentations and as Powerpoint slides with full text speaker notes.

Small group discussions

For students taking EPID600 on campus, a weekly 2-hour "lab" provides a summary of key points for each topic, presented by a teaching assistant, followed by a small group (6-11 students) discussion of a case-study. For students taking EPID600 online, monthly summaries by teaching assistants are presented as "live meetings" online. Small group discussions use an online discussion forum. The case studies are a major component of EPID600.


There are two take-home examinations, a midterm and a final examination. Examinations consist mostly of multiple choice questions, with a sprinkling of calculation and open-ended short-answer questions. Examinations are time-limited and designed to be answered without use of aids other than a calculator, but they are administered as open-book, open-note, open-web.


Aschengrau, Ann, and George R. Seage. Essentials of epidemiology in public health. Jones and Bartlett, 2nd edition, 2007. Victor J. Schoenbach. Understanding the fundamentals of epidemiology: an evolving text, is a free, on-line supplementary text.


All course materials other than the textbook are online. There is no coursepack to purchase.

Course Website

All course information can be accessed through a Sakai course website. Most of this information is also available on this (open) website.


Introduction to epidemiology

Definition, uses, and features of epidemiology.

Studying populations

Assessing health in populations. Basic demographic concepts - birth, fertility, and mortality rates; age and sex-structure of populations and population pyramids. Dynamics of population growth and effects on age distribution.

Incidence and Prevalence

Measures of disease frequency in populations - cumulative incidence, incidence rate, prevalence, fatality rate, and age standardization. Denominators for rates and proportions.

Natural history of disease; Population screening

Nature of disease, concept of natural history, spectrum of disease. Requiremensts for effective population screening programs. Sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value.

Intervention trials

Causal comparisons, counterfactual model of causal inference, counterfactual comparison and substitute population. Experimental and observational epidemiologic study designs. Clinical and community intervention trials, advantages of randomization. Issues of generalizability.

Cohort studies

Features and characteristics of cohort (follow-up) studies. The concept of relative risk. Risk (cumulative incidence) differences and ratios, rate differences and ratios, attributable risk.

Case-control studies

Case-control studies as a window into an underlying cohort. Odds ratios and their relation to cumulative incidence and risk ratios. Estimation of relative risk from case-control data.

Cross-sectional studies, Ecologic studies

Population surveys, illustrated with the National Health Interview Survey. Complex survey sampling. Characteristics, advantages and disadvantages, design, and analysis of cross-sectional and ecologic studies.

Selection bias

Sources of error in epidemiologic studies. Concepts of variability, reliability, internal validity, external validity, and bias. Random versus systematic error. The kappa statistic. Understanding selection bias.

Information bias

Problems in measurement and classification, bias resulting from errors in measurement. Differential versus non-differential error mechanisms.

Multicausality and confounding

Revisiting the counterfactual model of causation. Confounding results from differences between the substitute population and the counterfactual comparison. Illustrations of confounding and ways to deal with it. Potential confounders vs. actual confounders.

Data analysis and interpretation, Causal inference

Role of assumptions and models in data collection and analysis. Importance of data management in epidemiologic studies. Issues in data analysis. Inferring causality from epidemiologic data. Bradford-Hill criteria for causal inference.

Outbreak investigation

Students will hear a guest lecture (live or recorded) from Dr. David Weber and work through an online outbreak exercise.

Overview and Role of epidemiology in public health

Ten fundamentals of epidemiology. Several mega-determinants of current and future health, and the role of epidemiology in addressing them.


EPID600/EPID160 home page
Should I take EPID600/EPID160 or a different introductory course?
Course objectives
Course content
Grading scales
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Information for prospective teaching assistants
[EPID600/EPID160 history]

Updated 7/24/2004vs, 5/24/2005vs, 8/22/2009vs, 5/14/2017