Posted by: Jack Henry | April 7, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Endemic, Epidemic, Pandemic

Each year on April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Health Day by drawing attention to an important global health issue. This year’s theme is "beat diabetes."

In discussions about global health, you might hear the words endemic, epidemic, and pandemic. Picking the right word to describe a disease depends on how quickly the disease spreads, and over how large of an area.

If a disease does not spread, but is constant in a region, it is endemic (from the Greek en, in + dmos, people).

Malaria is endemic in some warmer regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Malaria cases are steadily declining, and malaria does not spread to other regions because the Anopheles mosquito does not live in colder climates.

If a disease spreads rapidly, but is confined to one region, it is an epidemic (from the Greek epi, on + dmos, people).

Recent epidemics include yellow fever in Angola, Zika virus in the Americas, H1N1 (swine flu) in India, and Ebola in West Africa.

If a disease spreads rapidly and is not confined to one region, it becomes a pandemic (from the Greek pan, all + dmos, people).

Pandemics can be devastating. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague killed 75100 million people across Europe and Asia. The 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic killed 4050 million people. Fortunately, pandemics are rare.

Diabetes: Endemic, Epidemic, or Pandemic?
The WHO calls diabetes an epidemic because it has spread so quickly. The number of people living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million. Low- and middle-income countries have seen an especially rapid increase.

Unlike most epidemics, diabetes is not contagious. Diabetes is treatable, and type 2 diabetes (which accounts for about 90 percent of diabetes) is preventable. The WHO is focusing on improving access to insulin in low-income countries and promoting lifestyle measures like engaging in regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar
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