USA TODAY - Even as cases continue to decline and more Americans receive their vaccines, the coronavirus isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, health officials say. The nation’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed the idea that COVID-19 would be eradicated in the next several years. “We need to plan that this is something we may need to maintain control over chronically. It may be something that becomes endemic, that we have to just be careful about,” he said. So, what is an endemic disease and how would COVID-19 become one? Experts say there are multiple endemic diseases in the United States that could foreshadow what the disease caused by the coronavirus may look like in the upcoming years.
What does endemic mean?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines endemic as the “constant presence and/or usual prevalence” of a disease within a population in a certain geographic area. An endemic disease spreads at a baseline level every year without causing major disruption to people's lives, said Dr. Donald Burke, professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
“Things that are endemic are present for long periods of time without interruption, continuously circulating in the population," like the common cold, he said.
What’s the difference between an epidemic and an endemic?
An epidemic is a sudden increase of a disease above what is normally expected among the population in a certain area, according to the CDC. Epidemics aren't just caused by diseases that result from viruses or bacteria, the agency says. For example, diabetes and obesity exist in large enough proportions in the U.S. to be considered epidemics. Similarly, a sudden increase in addiction to opioids over the past several years is accurately called an“opioid epidemic.”
The part of the word “epi” means "to be upon," Burke said, and “demic” comes from “demos,” which means "people."
“Epidemic means something that comes out and is among the people,” he said. “Things that are epidemic are things that are unusual that are not there and then appear.” Endemic means "something that's within the people," he added. Many epidemics have turned into endemics. But an endemic disease does not necessarily mean that it will exist forever. Some endemic diseases have been eliminated in the U.S. after achieving herd immunity through vaccines and natural infection.
What are some endemic diseases?
The four common cold coronaviruses, which are considered cousins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are considered endemic in most parts of the world, including the U.S., Burke said. “We don’t notice them,” he said. “They’re transmitted, they’re constant.”
Many childhood diseases also are endemic, he said. The measles, for example, used to be endemic in the U.S. “In the old days … they were commonplace. Everybody got them,” Burke said. But childhood vaccines helped impede transmission, almost eliminating the measles from the U.S.
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