Disease prevention is a branch of medicine that focuses on helping people avoid contracting diseases, both in individuals and communities. A number of branches of science and medicine are intertwined in this medical discipline, ranging from anthropology, to the study of cultural practices that could promote the spread of disease, to epidemiology, the identification and study of disease. Many nations have prevention programs in their national health framework, since it benefits society as a whole.
Humans have been struggling with disease for thousands of years, and the problem only became more pronounced when people began living in closely crowded areas. As cities grew, so did the diversity of disease, along with a variety of colorful attempts at preventing it. Not until the 1800s did people really begin to understand the process of disease, and start to take steps to prevent its spread and to promote healthy communities, ranging from washing hands between patients to pasteurizing dairy products.
Different nations have reached different levels in their disease prevention strategies. In developed countries, for example, basic steps like sanitizing drinking water, providing clean living conditions, and using widespread vaccination programs have proved to be very effective at preventing certain illnesses in communities at large, leaving medical professionals to focus primarily on individual patients. In the developing world, however, medical professionals are still struggling with the basic elements of preventing disease, ranging from encouraging the modification of cultural values to reduce the spread of disease to attempting to provide basic medical care.
In communities, disease prevention is usually focused on providing clean living conditions and promoting education so that people understand the mechanisms by which they get sick. Sewer systems, water purification plants, health codes, and the establishment of sterile hospital facilities are all examples of infrastructure which is designed to prevent diseases from spreading. Many nations also have community education programs, such as HIV/AIDS education, that tell citizens about how diseases spread. This two-pronged approach reduces the risk of disease by eliminating conditions in which it can thrive.
For individuals, disease prevention can include the use of vaccination and prophylactic medications, and the identification of risk factors that could make someone more prone to contracting an illness. General wellness may also be promoted, as healthy individuals with strong bodies are less likely to contract disease.
Disease prevention also includes work in scientific institutions and laboratories. Scientists work to identify diseases and to learn more about how they are transmitted and how they can be treated and prevented. The development of things like diagnostic screenings for early signs of cancer has been a major part of this work around the world, as has the focus on identifying at-risk individuals and reaching out to them.