Epidemiology Counts – Episode 40 – Disasters & Risk Assessment

The recent train derailment in East Palestine (apologies for host Bryan James’ mispronunciation in the Intro), Ohio raised major concerns over the release of harmful chemicals such as vinyl chloride into the environment. The town was evacuated for 5 days until authorities deemed that it was safe to return, though many lingering questions remained as to the safety of the air and water after such a disaster. This train derailment raised questions as to how experts assess the risk to exposed persons after a major disaster—both quickly assessing the immediate threat to residents, as well as observing long term health effects like increased risk for cancer. In this episode of Epi Counts, hosts Bryan James and Ghassan Hamra talk to Keeve Nachman from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, an expert in risk assessment, about how these decisions are made, and whether we really can ever get a yes or no answer to “is it safe now?” after a major disaster.

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 39 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

In this episode of Epi Counts, host Bryan James talks to Maria Glymour, the incoming chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, about their shared area of research: the epidemiology of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In this conversation, they discuss the latest on how scientists are attempting to define Alzheimer’s disease biologically as a distinct concept from the dementia syndrome, as well as the controversies surrounding such a definition. They cover what the evidence says about what we can do to prevent dementia, and what aspects of Alzheimer’s and dementia make these conditions particularly difficult to study. Finally, they address the cautious excitement regarding the recent FDA approval of two new Alzheimer’s drugs that appear to target the underlying disease after decades of failed trials, and the societal, ethical, and financial implications that arise from the introduction of these therapies.

Show notes:
Alzheimer’s Association Facts & Figures report https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 38 – Occupational Epidemiology

Occupational Epidemiology is one of the oldest and most salient areas in Epidemiology. People need to work, so understanding the aspects of the work environment that contribute to health is vital to public health. Exposures are often not confined to the workplace, meaning knowledge generated has wider importance. For example, occupational cohort studies of the health effects of asbestos and diesel exhaust have led to determinations of carcinogenicity by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The knowledge generated about asbestos ultimately lead to banning its use broadly.

In this episode, we discuss the field’s history and where it stands with Dr. Ellen Eisen, professor at UC Berkeley, who has spent her career advancing our understanding of the impacts of workplace exposures.

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 37 – Epidemiology vs. Population Health: Two sides of the same coin?

Population Health Sciences and Epidemiology are thought about as different from one another by some, and largely overlapping by others. Depending on who you talk to, either view might spark an argument. In this crossover episode, I get the chance to chat with Aresha Martinez-Cardoso, Darrell Hudson, and Michael Esposito, hosts of the IAPHS podcast. We may or may not actually answer the question: what’s the difference between these two fields anyway?

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 36 – Trans Health

Trans health is a growing area in public health. This is largely due to the growing number of individuals who feel comfortable expressing gender identities that do not confirm to binary male and female categories. The 2015 summary of the US transgender survey reported around 27,000 respondents, over 4 times as many as the previous 2008-2009 survey. Respondents also reported greater acceptance among family, friends, and colleagues, with over 50% of respondents describing them as ‘supportive.’ More notable in the survey was the volume of hardships experienced by transgender community members. Nearly any adverse health outcome or condition is experienced in greater proportion in the transgender community. It is also notable that people of color in the trans community tend have a greater proportion of adverse experiences compared to their white counterparts.

On this episode, we are joined by Dr. Will Beckham, an assistant scientist in the department of health, behaviour, and society here at JHBSPH, to discuss the evolution of research on trans health, where it is, and where it’s going.

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 35 – The Microbiome: our gut, our health

Did you know trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, virus, and fungi are living inside of your body right now? The microbiome can be described as the community of microbes that reside in a particular part the human body. The past two decades has seen an exponential increase in the number of publications related to the microbiome and how it affects human health. There is growing evidence that the microbiome, in all its complexity, can impact health and disease. Some of the diseases that have been linked to the microbiome may be surprising!

On this episode, we welcome Noel Mueller, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to give us a primer on the microbiome and how it relates to our health.

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 34 – Omicron & transition to endemic COVID-19

The most recent stage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been defined by the surge of the Omicron variant, a version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is highly contagious yet seemingly not as likely to result in severe infection. Cases are now declining in most parts of the country—but yet the rate of infection is still as high as it has ever been pre-Omicron [editor’s note: host erroneously left out “pre-Omicron” in Intro to podcast]. So what is next? Is the risk now low enough to relax mask mandates and resume some sense of “normalcy”? Or should we expect more variants to emerge that will cause another surge? Is COVID-19 now endemic, and if so, what does that really mean? In this episode, hosts Bryan James and Ghassan Hamra discuss what we have learned from the Omicron surge and the transition to endemicity with Justin Lessler from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and Cecile Viboud from the Fogarty International Center at the NIH.

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 33 – Social Media, Youth Mental Health

Social media is a major part of many people’s day to day lives, including children. Social media can connect young people to other people, groups, imagery, and ideas in a way that was never imaginable two decades ago. This can be exciting but also potentially harmful to vulnerable youth with developing minds. In October of 2021, a former facebook data scientist testified to congress that their internal research showed potential harms the social media platform can inflict on youth mental health, including increasing depression, suicidal thoughts and encouraging eating disorders, especially among girls. However, there are certainly potential benefits to social media for many young people, including encouraging engagement with family and friends more easily. In this episode of Epidemiology Counts, hosts Ghassan Hamra and Bryan James discuss the impact of social media on youth mental health with Kira Riehm, postdoctoral fellow at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

Relevant links discussed in this Episode:



Epidemiology Counts – Episode 32 – Built environment: Green Space

In the second episode on how the built environment of our cities and towns affects our health, we discuss how living near green spaces and natural environments can provide health benefits. The feeling of serenity while immersed in nature and vegetation is a near universal human experience; modern researchers are collecting evidence that it may be protective against health outcomes such as adverse mental health, cardiovascular disease, and mortality. Green spaces can decrease stress, promote physical and social activity, and mitigate air pollution and noise. We discuss how researchers are taking advantage of modern technology and databases to measure greenness using satellite imagery and large land-use databases linked to study participants’ addresses. This episode was a treat for host Bryan James, as he got to interview an expert he knows well: his brother! Peter James is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, as well as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Also, we officially welcome Ghassan Hamra as the co-host of Epidemiology Counts!

Epidemiology Counts – Episode 31 – Sports Injury

Sports is life. Fans have a deep devotion to their preferred teams from their alma maters or home towns. Fans spend shocking amounts of time discussing things like player stats and predictions of final game scores. The players are expected to be at the top of their game at all times. Regardless of the sport, players demand a lot from their bodies. The safety of players is paramount, and findings ways to minimize injury risk is key. Epidemiologists can be key players in helping identify ways to minimize risk of injury. Understanding what aspects of training are more relevant to injury risk, including specific activities and intensity, can help players avoid short term injuries. And in the long term, there are concerns for many players of lifetime consequences as a result of their sport, notably Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in football and football, or Soccer as we call it in the USA). We talk with Drs. Christina Mack and Mackenzie Herzog of IQVIA about how epidemiologists can work with players and teams to minimize sports injury.