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GIS for Public Health: Home

A guide to data, methods and other resources to GIS applications in Public Health


This guide connects members of the Morgan Community to Public Health data resources.  Components of both GIS and Public Health share a common origin in Dr. Snow's Cholera Map which represents the antecedent of epidemiology and spatial statistics.  The relationship between public health and GIS remains very robust through to the present day where GIS is used to track the spread of disease, evaluate emergent threats and vectors, conducting health policy research, identifying service areas and districts, evaluating accessibility and more.

Use the tabs at the top of the page to find different types of resources like books, which includes both online and print books on a wide range of topics like introductory GIS, advanced studies in spatial since and Public Health and area-specific, GIS-related Public Health concerns.  The data page contains GIS data and data that can be integrated into GIS-based public Health research.  The periodicals page contains links to several periodicals  with contents oriented around application of and studies on the use of spatial science in Public health.  The "Other Resources" page contains additional information to professional organizations, examples of GIS in Public Health and more.

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GIS for Public Health

What is GIS?

GIS, or geographic information systems, are computer-based tools used to store, visualize, analyze, and interpret geographic data. Geographic data (also called spatial, or geospatial data) identifies the geographic location of features.

These data include anything that can be associated with a location on the globe, or more simply anything that can be mapped. For example, roads, country boundaries, and address are all types of spatial data. At the CDC, we use GIS to help answer questions about how location impacts disease and disability.

Pieces of GIS

People: People use GIS to answer specific data-related questions. People collect data, develop procedures, identify research questions and define analysis tasks to run in GIS. In public health, people use GIS to explore a variety of topics. For example, researchers at CDC have used GIS to identify how to target polio immunization campaigns in geographically isolated locations.

Data: There are two main GIS types: vector data and raster data.

Vector data includes spatial features (points, lines, and polygons) and attributes about that data (descriptive information).

Raster data are stored electronic images (e.g., pictures taken as an aerial photograph or satellite images).

Analysis is the process of using spatial data to answer questions. There are many different analysis techniques.

Hardware: GIS software is run on computers. Memory and computing power are important because spatial data includes many attributes making it very large.

Software: Geographic Information Systems require specialized software. The most common GIS software include ArcGIS and QGIS. These types of programs can be used in conjunction with other types of software such as databases, statistical packages, or programming languages to increase functionality.

- What is GIS (CDC)

Reference and Government Documents Librarian

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Bryan Fuller
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