What’s the difference between ‘pandemic’ and ‘endemic’?

COVID-19 will never go away, infectious disease experts tell us, but the global health emergency it created will be over when the disease becomes “endemic.”

That definitely sounds like something to look forward to. But what does it mean exactly?

Endemic is related to two words we know well:

  • Epidemic: an outbreak of an infectious disease that spreads rapidly through a community.
  • Pandemic: an epidemic that affects people in a large region or on several continents.

If COVID-19 is endemic, it will still spread from one person to another and it will still affect people around the world. The main difference is that it does both at stable levels.
Stability is important because it leads to predictability. Knowing how many people will contract COVID-19, when they are most likely to contract it, and where they are most vulnerable will allow public health officials to contain the disease with far less disruption to the general public.

Influenza is a good example of an endemic disease. About 8% of the US population contract it each year, and the majority of cases occur during the winter months. Epidemiologists have identified who is most likely to be affected (children and adolescents) and who is most at risk of developing severe disease (elderly, those with chronic health conditions, pregnant women and children under the age of 5).

The things we do to minimize the effects of the flu — washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick — are so routine that we hardly even realize we’re doing them. (The exception is a flu shot; about one-third to one-half of Americans skip it each year.)

An endemic disease usually results in less severe illness than COVID-19 does now. In 2020, 53,544 Americans died from influenza and pneumonia combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, more than 350,000 Americans died from COVID-19 this year, as well as more than 475,000 in 2021.

Unfortunately, there is no easy formula to calculate how long it takes for a pandemic to transition to an endemic state, said Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Response Program.

“It’s a somewhat subjective judgment because it’s not just about the number of cases. It’s about severity and it’s about impact,” he said.

One thing experts can Prediction is that COVID-19 will continue to cause serious illness and deaths even if it is endemic.

“Endemic doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19. “We will continue to see outbreaks in vulnerable populations.”

Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agreed that the coronavirus will keep us on our toes for the foreseeable future.

“All pandemics end,” she said during a panel discussion hosted by the National Academy of Medicine and the American Public Health Assn. “But this virus is not going away. It won’t go away.”

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2022-02-10/pandemic-endemic-whats-the-difference What’s the difference between ‘pandemic’ and ‘endemic’?

Russell Falcon

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