Pandemic, epidemic and endemic

Relating to a disease or pathogen that is found in or confined to a particular location, region, or people. Malaria, for example, is endemic to tropical regions.
1662, from Gk. endemos “native,” from en- “in” + demos “people, district”.
An outbreak of a disease or illness that spreads rapidly among individuals in an area or population at the same time.
1603, from Gk. epidemia “prevalence of an epidemic disease”, from epi- “among, upon” + demos “people, district”.
An epidemic that spreads over a very wide area, such as an entire country or continent.
1666, from Gk. pandemos “pertaining to all people,” from pan- “all” + demos “people, district”.
Endemic, epidemic and pandemic are three words that refer to the spread of infectious diseases among a population, but on different scales, as their etymology suggests. An infection is endemic when it affects a very specific and limited group of people and is constant and at a stable rate, an epidemic occurs when new cases of a certain disease in a given human population, during a given period, substantially exceed the normal rate, and a pandemic indicates a far higher number of people and a much larger region affected than an epidemic.
In the case of swine flu, it thus seems appropriate to use the term “pandemic”: the number of people with the disease is still small, but the rate of infection is above normal and the disease is present on several continents.

Piglet photo by crispyking

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:10+00:00 April 30th, 2009|Words|2 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jemima April 30, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    With global travel being what it is, I wonder if we will ever see an epidemic again. I can imagine the other two, but can’t see how an outbreak could be restricted to that sort of area these days.

  2. Krys May 6, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Don’t agree with the pandemic status. We’re speaking of several hundred cases worldwide. Had Mexico not been brought to our attention, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed given most cases are fairly mild. I consider this to be another regrettable case of media hysteria.

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