Analytical studies are designed to determine which of the potential risk factors identified by the descriptive studies are actually relevant in the spread of the disease.
A cross-sectional study surveys a range of people to determine the prevalence of any of a number of characteristics including disease, risk factors associated with disease, or previous exposure to a disease-causing agent. This survey provides a rapid assessment of the features of a population at a given point in time and may suggest associations between risk factors and disease. These associations can then be explored using other types of analytical studies. The cross-sectional survey does not attempt to follow a certain group, nor does it establish cause of disease.
A retrospective study is done following a disease outbreak. This type of study compares the actions and events surrounding clinical cases (individuals who developed the disease) against appropriate controls (those who remained healthy). Thus, a case-control study starts by looking at the effect, which is the disease, and attempts to identify the causative chain of events. The activity or event that was common among the cases but not the controls is likely to have been a factor in the development of the disease. It is important to select controls that match the cases with respect to variables not thought to be associated with disease. Matching these variables, which might include factors such as age, sex, and socioeconomic status, ensures that all controls had equal probability of coming in contact with the disease agent. Otherwise, the bias can skew the results.
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