Epidemiology conducts research on health and disease at the population level – infection epidemiology is concerned with contagious diseases. Their tools and methods are systematic queries, clinical examinations and laboratory diagnostic documentation for both healthy and afflicted individuals, as well as statistical analysis of the compiled data. Causes and risk factors for infections can thus be identified. Infectious diseases epidemiology contributes to the development of preventive measures, early detection and therapy for diseases. Moreover, it examines the efficacy of such measures. Thus epidemiology ties in with scientific findings in basic research as well as medicine, and examines these processes at the population level.


Our research

The first priority of epidemiologists at HZI is investigating infectious agents that are under-researched and of particular public relevance. These include infections that can primarily be transferred from human to human (e.g. influenza) or from animal to human (e.g. Lyme disease), pathogens that are antibiotic resistant (e.g. MRSA), vaccine preventable infections (e.g. human papilloma virus, HPV) and others that are frequently acquired in hospitals (e.g. sepsis). Methodological priorities for research are short and long-term prospective cohort studies and cross-sectional surveys among the general public, secondary-data analyses and mathematical modelling. 

A particular area of focus for epidemiology at HZI is the German National Cohort study (GNC) which the Helmholtz Association is carrying out together with other research facilities in Germany. The National Cohort includes a total of 200,000 individuals aged 20 to 69 years, who are recruited through a network of 18 study centers, organized in eight geographic clusters throughout Germany, representing the population of almost all federal states and covering metropolitan, urban and rural regions. 

The National Cohort is designed to address research questions concerning a wide range of possible causes of major chronic diseases, to investigate factors which increase the risk of acquiring infections and to study the long term consequences of infections. The overarching objective of the National Cohort is to provide a sound knowledge base for improved and more targeted measures for the primary and secondary prevention of major diseases, tailored for the German population. The HZI has an epidemiological study centre in Hannover where 10,000 of the 200,000 test persons are examined. 

The group also coordinates the PhD programme “Epidemiology”.

What exactly does an epidemiologist do?

Epidemiologists are concerned with, among other things, the distribution and determinants of health related states or events, including diseases and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems. Epidemiologists employ a range of study designs, from the observational to experimental, to investigate factors that contribute to health or disease. Epidemiology is the cornerstone of public health; it supports policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive medicine.


  • SORMAS - the future of epidemic surveillance

    Epidemiologists and IT experts from Germany and Nigeria have jointly developed an innovative app to help fight epidemics like ebola or cholera - the Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS). This video explains why a tool like SORMAS is urgently needed and introduces the unique approach that makes SORMAS so powerful.

  • Fighting epidemics in Nigeria with SORMAS-App

    German scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) in Braunschweig and Nigerian researchers are applying the new mobile information system for the first time to combat a monkeypox outbreak in Nigeria. The monkeypox epidemic has spread since September 2017 and, by now, afflicts 128 patients in 14 federal states in Nigeria. The name of the system, SORMAS, stands for "Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System".

Audio Podcast

  • Staphylococcus aureus – ein Leben in der Nase2000 zufällig ausgewählte Braunschweiger Bürger haben in diesem Juni Post vom HZI erhalten – mit der Bitte, an einer Studie über die Verbreitung von Staphylococcus aureus teilzunehmen. Varianten des Bakteriums sind unter dem Kürzel MRSA als Krankenhauskeime zu trauriger Berühmtheit gelangt. Unsere Wissenschaftler wollen nun erforschen, wie viele Gesunde – außerhalb von Krankenhäusern – mit diesem Keim Leben. Und sie suchen nach Risikofaktoren, die Staphylococcus aureus die Besiedlung des Menschen erleichtern. Begleiten Sie Frank Pessler und Jaishri Mehraj ein Stück in die Welt der Epidemiologie...
  • Proben und Fragebögen für die Infektionsforschung - Die Nationale Kohorte Diabetes mellitus, Krebs, Arterienverkalkung und diverse Infektionen sind Volkskrankheiten, über die wir viel zu wenig wissen. Mit der Nationalen Kohorte wollen Wissenschaftler diesen Krankheiten auf den Grund gehen und neue Strategien gegen sie entwickeln. Frank Pessler und Manas Akmatov nehmen die Infektionen ins Visier. Lassen Sie sich erklären, wie ihnen 225.000 Menschen dabei helfen sollen…
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