The global pandemic catapulted the field of public health into the spotlight, giving the general population a better understanding of the need for public health professionals. Yet, understanding infectious diseases is tricky. It takes a skillful sleuth — one who can use knowledge to hunt down the origins of a complex outbreak and work as a team to address it effectively.
The UNLV School of Public Health — one of only 68 in the world accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health — is preparing the next generation of disease detectives to help the entire Nevada community live healthier lives.
Epidemiology, the study of diseases, is just one fascinating branch of public health. And you might recognize its teacher, Brian Labus. He was Nevada’s go-to source for information on COVID-19. Here’s a preview of his class.
The Course: EAB 725 — Infectious Disease Epidemiology
Infectious disease epidemiology teaches students the basic concepts of investigating and controlling diseases in human populations.
Why is it being taught?
This is one of School of Public Health’s original courses, and teaches students the foundational skills and knowledge needed to handle any disease thrown their way.
Labus says, “If they only know malaria or they only know salmonella, it's going to be very hard to get a job because no job is just specialized in those things. Many of our students want to work at the health department and do this as their career. A big part of it is giving them a well-rounded set of skills to be able to go out and do that.”
Who’s taking it?
This course is required for all graduate students in the epidemiology and biostatistics program. While it’s open to other master’s students, the majority of the class is composed of students who truly have a passion for epidemiology. “It's a class of motivated students who want to do this for their career. They're really excited about having this course because it's what they want to do the rest of their lives,” Labus says.
"What I love about Dr. Labus’ courses is his dedication to ensuring that we see the full picture. He teaches us theory and practice, and in doing so, he provides us with guidance on the real-life effects of public health actions. I’ve learned so much this semester about identifying diseases, preventing their spread, and how epidemiological investigations actually work, but I’ve also learned about the human toll of disease and how public health officials must carry out their work with precision, integrity, and empathy at the heart of their actions." — Pashtana Usufzy, Master of Public Health, Biostatistics and Epidemiology track
Who’s teaching it?
With years of experience investigating every major outbreak at resort properties during his time at the Southern Nevada Health District, Labus was recruited by UNLV to bring his real-world expertise into the classroom back in 2006, and he’s been teaching this course ever since.
Fast forward 17 years, and Labus is just as passionate about teaching this class today as he was on day one. For anyone interested in this exciting field, taking Labus' class is an opportunity not to be missed.
What even laypeople would gain from this course.
The pandemic has taught us a vital lesson: When it comes to outbreaks, individual actions have a community wide impact. It's a powerful reminder that public health is a concern for all of us. Labus emphasizes that epidemiology is not just a specialized field for experts, but rather a problem-solving approach that everyone can learn. By understanding the principles of public health and applying them to our daily lives, we can all make a positive impact on our communities and contribute to a healthier world.
Where do students go next?
Next in the series is EAB 735: Outbreak Investigation. In this class, students work through real world case studies and simulations to learn how to investigate outbreaks in the community.
What students might be surprised to learn.
Things are not always as they seem. As Labus puts it, “You need a lot of finesse and soft skills to be able to make things happen, and the simple answer usually isn't the right one.”
Students learn about the science behind diseases and how they spread as well as how to apply this knowledge to practical scenarios. Public health crises are rarely tackled alone, so teamwork is a key focus of the class. Effective communication and collaboration with other professionals and the public are essential for success during an outbreak.
By the end of the course, students will have gained a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of public health crises and the skills to navigate these challenges in the real world.
"My experience in Dr. Labus' courses can be summed up as: applicable, insightful, and thought-provoking. Real-world infectious disease outbreaks are simulated, providing students with the opportunity to sharpen their data analysis, interpretation, and presentation skills. Students interested in thinking deeply about the spread of disease in our ever-changing and expanding society are likely to walk away from these classes more informed and prepared to tackle the complexity of infectious diseases in our modern world." — Rebecca Dunne, Master of Public Health, Biostatistics and Epidemiology track
What excites the instructor the most about this class?
Labus’ passion for public health is contagious! “I love just how excited students get about certain topics. Seeing them find something they love and decide this is what they want to do, because this is what I love. It's great to be able to pass that on to somebody else and see them get excited about it, too,“ says Labus.
The reading list:
According to Labus, there are countless examples of media that incorporates outbreaks into the plotline — from the video game The Last of Us to blockbuster films like World War Z and 28 Days Later. However, there are two movies that stand out to him above all the rest: Outbreak and Airplane!.
Outbreak is a classic example of a movie that centers around an outbreak of a deadly virus, but for Labus, it's the quirky comedy Airplane! that really takes the cake. He recommends the film for its hilariously iconic plot point involving a plane crew that falls ill from food poisoning (a very common public health issue). And despite the hijinks that ensue, Labus is serious about his recommendation — and he insists that you shouldn't call him Shirley.