The field of biological sciences that deals with the study of the spreading of diseases and the population affecting them is referred to as epidemiology. We are in 2022 and the world has improved in terms of science. The worst pandemic of corona that affected the world is just one example of how improvement in epidemiology had proved to be extremely helpful in keeping check of the statistics of how the diseases are spread.
With the advancements in every field of studies, nowadays the type of attacks on people have improved too. Bio wars where a person or a country attacks their enemy using biological weapons such as viruses, bacteria, or any such biological organism have become common among a lot of countries.
Hence the application of this particular field in forensic science had proven to increase the probability of a successful investigation in certain crimes.
What is Forensic Epidemiology?
The application of the study of diseases, their causative agents, and the rate of effectiveness in the field of investigative law is known as forensic epidemiology. Forensic epidemiologists formulate evidence-based probabilistic conclusions about the type and quantity of causal association between an antecedent harmful exposure and an injury or disease outcome in both populations and individuals.
Applications of forensic epidemiologic principles are found in a wide variety of types of civil litigation, including cases of medical negligence, toxic or mass torture, pharmaceutical adverse events, medical device, consumer product failures, traffic crash-related injury and death, person identification, and life expectancy.
Forensic epidemiology uses public health methods to analyze and study the disease spread and its statistical growth over time, Epidemiologists have been called upon often in the past few decades to help resolve disease-related litigation. They have served as investigative experts, consulting experts, and expert witnesses.
Forensic Epidemiology & Microbial Forensics
Around the year 2000, the most famous Anthrax attack was committed just with the help of bacteria. Microorganisms are the most suitable weapon considering their ease of dispersion and the effect such a small organism can create in human beings. Hence forensic epidemiology also includes microbial forensics which gives a detailed study of microorganisms and the effect it causes along with the toxins they produce and their forensic analysis.
Microbial forensics can also be used to help determine location-based information of a person, to a certain extent. It is argued that because microbial communities are complex in individuals, it can be very useful in determining the recent environment of victims, their diet, or even in linking them back to other individuals based on the bacterial strain type. There is also evidence where crimes have been solved with the help of microbes that linked the potential suspects to the disease spread proportionate to its rate of spread.
Epidemiologists are also involved in criminal cases long before the litigation stage. Most public health workers will encounter forensic epidemiology in the field as investigations unfold. Many different disciplines may participate in a field-based forensic epidemiology investigation.
Two of the biggest players in a health-related investigation for an event such as bioterrorism are public health and law enforcement officials. These two groups share the goals of protecting the public, preventing or stopping the spread of disease, identifying those responsible for a threat or attack, and safeguarding all people involved in the response and investigative phases.
During an investigation, law enforcement can offer criminology expertise, forensic laboratory collaboration, and connections to national and international law enforcement agencies. Public health can offer expert medical and laboratory consultation and collaboration with national and international public health organizations.
Case Study of Antrax Attack
Terrorism is the worst man-made attack that had ever been discovered in history and is now modified by multiple countries as bioterrorism where they use a biological weapon which could be any form of poisonous gas, toxin, microorganism, animal, plant, or even insect to attack the enemy. This can be hugely fatal especially if it is performed using microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses due to their sensitivity and the relatively small size.
Because of this, the victims might not even realize that they have been attacked until visible symptoms of sickness start to be depicted. Such a case was the Anthrax attack that terrorized the United States of America, especially in Florida.
On October 2, 2001, Palm beach Health Department of Florida was notified by a physician who was researching infectious diseases after obtaining an unusual test result using gram stain (used for bacterial staining) for a patient with meningitis that is caused by bacteria over the tissues covering the brain.
The State Epidemiologist was contacted and a team of local epidemiologists started an investigation on the same. On October 3rd specimens were sent to the state laboratory and further testing confirmed the possible presence of the bacteria bacillus anthracis in the blood. Together the state and the CDC notified the FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C regarding the Florida incident.
The incident had spread and was reported across the United States. It was finally found that the letters sent across the white house and the Florida incident were connected and the letters contained spores from Bacillus Anthracis that infected the people causing fatal results. Five deaths were reported and seventeen were fatally sick and were under hospital care for days.
However, the USA fought this healthily with the help of Forensic epidemiologists and the FBI.