What is the Difference between a Pandemic and an Endemic?

Health and Wellness, Staff Perspectives

Written by Sue Sproule, MPA, RN, Director of Nursing at The Arc of Monroe

What is the Difference between a Pandemic and an Endemic?

During the past two years of living through this pandemic, we have had to learn so many new terms. Words like “novel,” “close contact,” “N-95,” “quarantine vs. isolation,” and others. The list goes on and on. The latest word to emerge is “Endemic.” I thought it might be good to explain the difference between a “Pandemic” and an “Endemic.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic in March of 2020 due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “a pandemic is when a disease affects the global population.” Pandemics happen when new (novel) viruses emerge which are able to infect people easily and spread from person-to-person in an efficient and sustained way. Because the virus is new to humans, very few people have immunity against the pandemic virus. The new virus will make a lot of people sick.

We certainly saw this with COVID-19, didn’t we?

Today, the new buzz word is endemic. Beginning with “end,” it is logical to think it stands for THE END OF COVID. Unfortunately, that is not the case. According to the CDC, an endemic is “the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.” To put it another way, an endemic disease is consistently present, but it spreads at predictable rates. While some people still get infected, it wouldn’t be an unbearable number with devastating consequences that overwhelms the public, hospital systems and providers. The flu is a good example of an endemic.

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it gave us a new perspective on disease control. Vaccines are available for those who wish, social distancing and good hand washing will, and should, never go away and masks are in abundance if your comfort level is low.

Please stay safe and healthy!

Sue Sproule is the Director of Nursing at The Arc of Monroe. She has 44 years of experience in nursing and four have been at The Arc of Monroe. To connect with Sue, email her at ssproule@arcmonroe.org

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