Countries are now preparing for COVID-19 to be an endemic instead of calling it a pandemic.
What’s the difference between epidemic, pandemic, and endemic?
An outbreak is a “sudden breaking out or occurrence” or “eruption.” When referring to an infectious disease, an outbreak is specifically a sudden rise in cases, especially when it is only or so far affecting a relatively localized area.
An epidemic disease is one “affecting many persons at the same time, and spreading from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent.” The World Health Organization (WHO) further specifies epidemic as occurring at the level of a region or community.
A pandemic disease is an epidemic that has spread over a large area, that is, it’s “prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.”
While pandemic can be used for a disease that has spread across an entire country or other large landmass, the word is generally reserved for diseases that have spread across continents or the entire world.
Endemic is perhaps most commonly used to describe a disease that is prevalent in or restricted to a particular location, region, or population.
An epidemic as the start of something—whether a disease or a trend—spreading rapidly within a community or region, whereas a pandemic is what an epidemic becomes once it reaches a far wider swath of people, especially across continents or the entire world.
Due to its worldwide reach, a pandemic can lead to a disease becoming endemic.
Experts say that the pandemic is now moving forward to becoming an endemic.
“We’re anticipating that we will have COVID seasons for the next few years as we build up immunity. There will be no ticker tape parade, no sign that says ‘We’re endemic!’” said Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist in the clinical epidemiology program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who sits on Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
Public health officials have concerns about under-vaccinated populations. These include vulnerable and racialized communities who are less likely to be vaccinated, said Manuel.
The pandemic experience may affect the way people approach working while they are sick, said Manuel.
People may also be more likely to wear a mask if they have any symptoms. Ventilation systems may improve and rapid tests may be here to stay.
“It will be part of our lives. But the goal will be to make it a less intrusive part of our lives. No more lockdowns. We will think about it the way we think about other infectious diseases,” said epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, a global health researcher at the University of Ottawa.
“It is possible that we’ll get it to the level of the flu. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Flu is a killer.”
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