Public Health Research

Research Symposium
Student presents research to population health faculty at a poster session.

About our Research

The Population Health Sciences department is grounded in an interdisciplinary "One Health" approach. One Health recognizes the dynamic interdependence of human health, animal health, and the environment and encompasses the interdisciplinary efforts of medical, veterinary, and public health professionals to protect, promote, and improve health. Faculty, in partnership with students and external collaborators, conduct research that addresses the individual, social, and environmental determinants of health, reflects the human-animal-environment interface, promotes health equity, and builds healthy communities.

Research Areas

Infectious Diseases
Students working on a research project with Andrea Bertke, assistant professor of infectious diseases.

Two main areas comprise the public health research program: infectious disease epidemiology and public health education. Faculty collaborate with colleagues in the Virginia Biocomplexity Institute to use systems science modeling of public health dynamics with a focus on global health epidemiology of infectious diseases, health systems, and environmental health. Faculty labs conduct infectious disease research on such diseases as herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, Zika virus, hemorrhagic enteritis virus, and hepatitis E virus in chickens. Other zoonotic research is using spatial statistical analysis to study H5N1 avian influenza and salmonella. Global health-oriented secondary faculty address such infectious diseases as brucellosis and tuberculosis in a variety of regions worldwide.

The program's externally-funded computational epidemiologic and lab-based approaches focus on infectious diseases and community-engaged projects in health behavior, health policy, and environmental health; its research portfolio includes primary and secondary data analysis, lab-based research, spatial modeling, environmental health studies, and community-engaged program interventions. Faculty collaborate with colleagues across Virginia Tech and many research endeavors include collaborations with community organizations, such as an NIH-funded evaluation of diabetes education programs that involves formal agreements with the health ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Health, and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Research Symposium
MPH students coordinate the Market Kids program, which teaches local youth about healthy food preparation and local food systems.

Program faculty also have formal agreements for research with community-based organizations such as Friends of West End and West Central Community Health Improvement League. The program’s overarching goal to enhance public health practice and research, particularly in Southwest and Southside Virginia, is reflected in other collaborations and in faculty members’ affiliations with the centers. For example, the mission of the Center for Public Health Research and Practice is to bolster interdisciplinary collaborative public health practice and research activities at Virginia Tech, in Appalachia, and in Southside counties.

Students have been involved in the implementation and evaluation of fitness and nutrition curricula to determine the most effective entry point for sustaining parent and child involvement. Students have also had the opportunity to participate in global research (locations include Malawi, Dominican Republic, and Tanzania), research activities in the college, and across other colleges at Virginia Tech.

Faculty Research Team

Charlotte Baker

Charlotte Baker, DrPH, MPH, CPH
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology
Research focus: Sports and recreation injury prevention and control; physical activity; blood disorders; health disparities and health equity.

Andrea Bertke

Andrea Bertke, PhD
Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases
Research focus: Comparison of mechanisms by which HSV-1 and HSV-2 establish latent infection and reactivate to cause different presentations and outcomes of recurrent disease, and the role of the autonomic nervous system in these processes.

Alasdair Cohen

Alasdair Cohen, PhD
Assistant Professor of Environmental Epidemiology (starting August 2019)
Research focus: Drinking water contamination, treatment, and supply; environmental health in low-income rural communities, with a focus on developing safe water programs.

Julia Gohlke

Julia Gohlke, PhD
Associate Professor of Environmental Health
Research focus: Human health implications of global environmental change, bioinformatic and alternative model methods for estimating human health risk, human health risk assessment and communication after large-scale environmental disasters.

Learn more about the Gohlke laboratory.

Kathy Hosig

Kathy Hosig, RD, MPH, PhD
Associate Professor, Extension Public Health Specialist
Director, Center for Public Health Practice and Research Research focus: Community engaged research with an emphasis on dissemination of evidence-based health behavior interventions and programs through Cooperative Extension. Current projects target glycemic control in underserved populations with Type 2 diabetes; childhood obesity prevention through family-based lifestyle education in partnership with black churches; obesity prevention through policy, systems and environmental change; and prevention of substance misuse and addiction through evidence-based programs for families and middle school students.

Learn more about the Center for Public Health Practice & Research.

Laura Hungerford

Laura Hungerford, DVM, MPH, PhD, CPH
Professor of Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology
Department Head, Department of Population Health Sciences
Research focus: Infectious disease epidemiology.

Patrick Pithua

Patrick Pithua, PhD, MSc, BVM
Associate Professor of Epidemiology
Research focus: Emerging and endemic bacterial human diseases of animal origin; emergence and persistence of antimicrobial resistance; ruminant health and welfare.

Valerie Ragan

Valerie Ragan, DVM
Associate Professor of Practice
Director, Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine
Research focus: Global public health; brucellosis control and eradication strategies; strengthening international veterinary capacity for disease detection and response; and building collaborative programs at the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health.

Cassidy Rist

Cassidy Rist, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
Assistant Professor, Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine
Research focus: Promoting the role of livestock health in global food and economic security; strengthening international veterinary capacity for disease detection and response; building collaborative programs at the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health.

Jenni Zambriski

Jenni Zambriski, DVM, PhD
Assistant Professor, Epidemiology
Research focus: Refinement and use of the calf model of cryptosporidiosis to develop novel drugs for use in calves and children; transmission dynamics between cattle, children, and the environment in resource-poor countries; the role of livestock ownership and livestock health as a pathway out of poverty.