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Prevalence

Prevalence

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In epidemiology
Epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of health-event, health-characteristic, or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive...

, the prevalence of a health-related state (typically disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

, but also other things like smoking or seatbelt use) in a statistical population
Statistical population
A statistical population is a set of entities concerning which statistical inferences are to be drawn, often based on a random sample taken from the population. For example, if we were interested in generalizations about crows, then we would describe the set of crows that is of interest...

 is defined as the total number of cases of the risk factor in the population at a given time, or the total number of cases in the population, divided by the number of individuals in the population. It is used as an estimate of how common a disease is within a population over a certain period of time. It helps physician
Physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

s or other health professionals understand the probability of certain diagnoses
Medical diagnosis
Medical diagnosis refers both to the process of attempting to determine or identify a possible disease or disorder , and to the opinion reached by this process...

 and is routinely used by epidemiologists
Epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of health-event, health-characteristic, or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive...

, health care
Health care
Health care is the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in humans. Health care is delivered by practitioners in medicine, chiropractic, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, allied health, and other care providers...

 providers, government agencies and insurers.

Suppose we define a as the number of individuals in a given population with the disease at a given time, and b as the number of individuals in the same population at risk of developing the disease at a given time, not including those already with the disease. Then, we can write the prevalence as


Prevalence may also be expressed in terms of subgroups of the population based on different denominator data
Denominator data
-Definition:In epidemiology, data or facts about a population is called denominator data. Denominator data is independent of any specific disease or condition. Disease specific data includes the incidence of disease in a population, the susceptibility of the population to a specific condition, the...

.

Prevalence is contrasted with incidence
Incidence (epidemiology)
Incidence is a measure of the risk of developing some new condition within a specified period of time. Although sometimes loosely expressed simply as the number of new cases during some time period, it is better expressed as a proportion or a rate with a denominator.Incidence proportion is the...

 which is a measure of new cases.

Examples and Utility


For example, the prevalence of obesity among American adults in 2001 was estimated by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services headquartered in Druid Hills, unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, in Greater Atlanta...

 at approximately 20.9%. In plain English, "prevalence" simply means "extent", but in scientific English it means "proportion" (typically expressed as a percentage).

Prevalence is distinct from incidence
Incidence (epidemiology)
Incidence is a measure of the risk of developing some new condition within a specified period of time. Although sometimes loosely expressed simply as the number of new cases during some time period, it is better expressed as a proportion or a rate with a denominator.Incidence proportion is the...

. Prevalence is a measurement of all individuals affected by the disease within a particular period of time, whereas incidence is a measurement of the number of new individuals who contract a disease during a particular period of time. (not consistent with above formula saying prevalence is the % of people who have the disease from the total group exposed)

To illustrate, a long term disease that was spread widely in a community in 2002 will have a high prevalence at a given point of 2003 (assuming it has a long duration) but it might have a low incidence rate during 2003 (i.e. lots of existing cases, but not many new ones in that year). Conversely, a disease that is easily transmitted but has a short duration might spread widely during 2002 but is likely to have a low prevalence at any given point in 2003 (due to its short duration) but a high incidence during 2003 (as many people develop the disease). As such, prevalence is a useful parameter when talking about long lasting diseases, such as HIV
HIV
Human immunodeficiency virus is a lentivirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome , a condition in humans in which progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive...

, but incidence is more useful when talking about diseases of short duration, such as chickenpox
Chickenpox
Chickenpox or chicken pox is a highly contagious illness caused by primary infection with varicella zoster virus . It usually starts with vesicular skin rash mainly on the body and head rather than at the periphery and becomes itchy, raw pockmarks, which mostly heal without scarring...

.

Lifetime prevalence (LTP) is the number of individuals in a statistical population that at some point in their life (up to the time of assessment) have experienced a "case" (e.g., a disorder), compared to the total number of individuals (i.e. it is expressed as a ratio or percentage). Often, a 12-month prevalence (or some other type of "period prevalence") is used in conjunction with lifetime prevalence. There is also point prevalence, the prevalence of disorder at a more specific (a month or less) point in time. There is also a related figure lifetime morbid risk - the theoretical prevalence at any point in life for anyone, regardless of time of assessment. (example: Synopsis of article on "How Prevalent Is Schizophrenia?" from Public Library of Science)

Limitations



It can be said that a very small error applied over a very large number of individuals (that is, those who are *not affected* by the condition in the general population during their lifetime; for example, over 95%) produces a relevant, non-negligible number of subjects who are incorrectly classified as having the condition or any other condition which is the object of a survey study: these subjects are the so-called false positives; such reasoning applies to the 'false positive' but not the 'false negative' problem where we have an error applied over a relatively very small number of individuals to begin with (that is, those who are *affected* by the condition in the general population; for example, less than 5%). Hence, a very high percentage of subjects who seem to have a history of a disorder at interview are false positives for such a medical condition and apparently never suffered a fully clinical syndrome
Syndrome
In medicine and psychology, a syndrome is the association of several clinically recognizable features, signs , symptoms , phenomena or characteristics that often occur together, so that the presence of one or more features alerts the physician to the possible presence of the others...

.

A different but related problem in evaluating the public health significance of psychiatric conditions has been highlighted by Robert Spitzer
Robert Spitzer (psychiatrist)
Robert L. Spitzer was a major architect of the modern classification of mental disorders. He is a retired professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City, United States and was on the research faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He...

 of Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

: fulfillment of diagnostic criteria and the resulting diagnosis
Medical diagnosis
Medical diagnosis refers both to the process of attempting to determine or identify a possible disease or disorder , and to the opinion reached by this process...

 do not necessarily imply need for treatment.

See also


A well-known statistical problem arises when ascertaining rates for disorders and conditions with a relatively low population prevalence or base-rate. Even assuming that lay interview diagnoses are highly accurate in terms of sensitivity and specificity and their corresponding area under the ROC curve (that is, AUC, or area under the receiver operating characteristic
Receiver operating characteristic
In signal detection theory, a receiver operating characteristic , or simply ROC curve, is a graphical plot of the sensitivity, or true positive rate, vs. false positive rate , for a binary classifier system as its discrimination threshold is varied...

 curve), a condition with a relatively low prevalence or base-rate is bound to yield high false positive
Type I and type II errors
In statistical test theory the notion of statistical error is an integral part of hypothesis testing. The test requires an unambiguous statement of a null hypothesis, which usually corresponds to a default "state of nature", for example "this person is healthy", "this accused is not guilty" or...

 rates, which exceed false negative
Type I and type II errors
In statistical test theory the notion of statistical error is an integral part of hypothesis testing. The test requires an unambiguous statement of a null hypothesis, which usually corresponds to a default "state of nature", for example "this person is healthy", "this accused is not guilty" or...

 rates; in such a circumstance a limited positive predictive value
Positive predictive value
In statistics and diagnostic testing, the positive predictive value, or precision rate is the proportion of subjects with positive test results who are correctly diagnosed. It is a critical measure of the performance of a diagnostic method, as it reflects the probability that a positive test...

, PPV, yields high false positive rates even in presence of a specificity which is very close to 100%.

  • Incidence
    Incidence (epidemiology)
    Incidence is a measure of the risk of developing some new condition within a specified period of time. Although sometimes loosely expressed simply as the number of new cases during some time period, it is better expressed as a proportion or a rate with a denominator.Incidence proportion is the...

  • Rare disease
    Rare disease
    A rare disease, also referred to as an orphan disease, is any disease that affects a small percentage of the population.Most rare diseases are genetic, and thus are present throughout the person's entire life, even if symptoms do not immediately appear...

  • Denominator data
    Denominator data
    -Definition:In epidemiology, data or facts about a population is called denominator data. Denominator data is independent of any specific disease or condition. Disease specific data includes the incidence of disease in a population, the susceptibility of the population to a specific condition, the...


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