What does it mean that a disease is ‘endemic’?

As viruses like COVID-19 spread, they can become endemic in new regions. (Image credit: Peter Zelei Images via Getty Images)

You may have heard the term “endemic” used to describe diseases, often compared to the terms “epidemic” and “pandemic.” Many health officials say that COVID-19 is likely to move from pandemic to endemic status in many countries. But what does that mean?

More generally, the term “endemic” refers to an organism found in a particular region. In ecology, it means a species that lives only in one geographical area, such as a plant or an animal confined to an island, according to US Geological Survey (opens in a new tab). However, in the context of public health, “endemic” refers to a disease with a constant presence or “usual” number of infections in a specific area, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in a new tab).

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