Areas of Public Health

Communicable disease control

Public health tracks and works to control illness or infection in both humans and animals. These communicable diseases can spread from human-to-human (like measles) animal-to-human (West Nile) or animal-to-animal (parvovirus).

The role of a public health department is to track and limit the spread of diseases in communities. A health department is proactive in compiling, tracking, analyzing, reporting and acting on information of cases and illness. 

Communicable disease tracking and management is required by Colorado law.

Emergency preparedness and response

To prepare for emergencies, public health agencies work with other partners to identify potential hazards and at-risk populations, then create plans, practice using plans, and ultimately respond to community emergencies that have a health and/or public health component.  

The role of the public health department varies, depending on the incident. For example, if the incident is a communicable disease outbreak, the public health department would take the lead in coordinating county, state, and federal efforts. On another incident, the public health department’s role could be coordinating hospital resources.

Maternal and child health

A public health focus on maternal and child health, strengthens communities and reduces future medical costs. The role of a public health department can be considered in three categories:

  1. Services that support the health of women throughout the reproductive life cycle from safe (and wanted) conception and pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period. Services for newborn and child safety are also included. 
  2. Information, resources, care coordination and specialty clinics to youth with physical, emotional and/or behavioral health care needs for temporary or chronic conditions. 
  3. Reviews of individual child deaths to help communities understand why children die and determine ways to effectively prevent future fatalities.

Colorado law mandates the establishment of a local child fatality prevention review team.

Reproductive and sexual health

A public health department’s concentration on reducing infant, child and maternal deaths often goes hand-in-hand with offering access to a broad range of family planning and related preventive health services. Services can include offering opportunities for pre-conception counseling and screening and educating on the use of barrier contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. 

Testing and tracking of sexually transmitted disease falls under the legal requirement of a health department to track communicable diseases.

Behavioral Health

Behavioral health includes mental health, substance use/misuse/abuse and the social well-being of individuals. Public health partners closely with social service agencies for prevention and treatment. 

Public health department work in this area is widespread, from providing basic training to community members and agencies, public education and referral for services, to large-scale opioid prevention programs. 


Vaccines reduce risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds and prepares your body to fight off future infections. Immunizations have led to the eradication of some of the world’s most deadly diseases (such as smallpox) and to significant decreases in incidence of diseases such as rubella and measles.

Public health has also been at the forefront of preventing communicable diseases through the development of vaccines and the management of vaccination programs. Colorado law mandates a public health department to provide the immunizations that are required for school entry to children whose parents/guardians cannot afford to have them immunized. 

Environmental Health

Environmental health seeks to prevent injury or illness by identifying environmental hazards and then limiting exposure to them. The hazards can be physical, chemical or biological agents in the air, water, soil or food. 

Consider environmental health in two categories:

  • Consumer protection—retail food, childcare, and body art establishment inspections
  • Environmental protection—land use, wastewater, water quality, solid waste