About our research

The Department of Population Health Sciences is grounded in an interdisciplinary One Health approach, recognizing the dynamic interdependence of human health, animal health, and the environment and encompassing the interdisciplinary efforts of medical, veterinary, and public health professionals to protect, promote, and improve health.

In partnership with students and external collaborators, faculty 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

The public health research program consists of two main areas: infectious disease epidemiology and public health education. Faculty collaborate with colleagues 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 uses spatial statistical analysis to study H5N1 avian influenza and salmonella. Global health-oriented secondary faculty address infectious diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis in 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, and its research portfolio includes primary and secondary data analysis, lab-based research, spatial modeling, environmental health studies, and community-engaged program interventions.

While faculty collaborate with colleagues across Virginia Tech, 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.

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 Practice and Research bolsters interdisciplinary collaborative public health practice and research activities at Virginia Tech, in Appalachia, and in Southside Virginia 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 in such locations as Malawi, Dominican Republic, and Tanzania, and research activities in the veterinary college and across other colleges at Virginia Tech.

Faculty research team

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

Andrea Bertke, PhD
Associate Professor, 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, PhD
Assistant Professor, Environmental Epidemiology
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, PhD
Associate Professor, Environmental Health
Gohlke Research Group→
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

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.

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

Patrick Pithua, PhD, MSc, BVM
Associate Professor, Epidemiology

Research focus: Emerging and endemic bacterial human diseases of animal origin; emergence and persistence of antimicrobial resistance; ruminant health and welfare.

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, 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, 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 among cattle, children, and the environment in resource-poor countries; the role of livestock ownership and livestock health as a pathway out of poverty