What Does Endemic Mean?

What Does Endemic Mean?

March 21, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jerry Zuckerman, M.D.

Straight out of a sci-fi thriller, we have lived through a COVID-state far longer than we all would have wanted. While the COVID-19 virus may not go away completely, the pandemic will eventually become endemic.

What’s the difference between epidemic, pandemic and endemic?

All three terms, epidemic, pandemic and endemic relate to the sudden spread of an infectious disease – it all depends on our immunity to the infection,  the rate of spread, predictability to manage the disease, and how widespread the disease is geographically.

  • Epidemic: A sudden increase in an infectious disease in a certain geographical area.
  • Pandemic: An outbreak of disease across several countries or continents. (Essentially, an epidemic that’s spread further across the globe.)
  • Endemic: A disease outbreak that is consistently present, but limited to within a certain area. (This is like the seasonal flu – there are cases all year round, but consistently a predictable surge during certain times of year.)

What will endemic COVID look like? 

“COVID is not yet endemic, as we keep seeing surges, outbreaks and new variants. We don't know when we'll see COVID declared as endemic, but our hope is to continue to control the spread of the virus,” shares Jerry Zuckerman, M.D., vice president of infection prevention and control at Hackensack Meridian Health

Eventually, COVID will likely look like the seasonal flu, Dr. Zuckerman adds, with more consistent case volume year round and surges during certain times of year. "It's about getting to a point where daily life is not halted by this virus."

Does an endemic status mean COVID is less dangerous?

Once COVID is declared as endemic, it doesn’t mean the virus is less dangerous. This means the virus is more predictable and cases will be more consistent, as opposed to spikes and drops in infection rates.  Vaccination remains the best way to make a viral infection less dangerous.

Key takeaways:

  1. The difference between epidemic, pandemic and endemic has to do with the rate of spread, predictability of the disease, and how widespread it is geographically. We are still in a state of pandemic with COVID. 
  2. Once COVID-19 is endemic, it doesn’t mean COVID no longer exists. It means the virus has a steady rate of transmission, and we are better able to predict surges. 
  3. Don’t stop taking safety precautions. Wash your hands, mask when appropriate, stay up to date on vaccinations and stay home if you are sick. 

“We all want COVID to be ‘over’, but it’s important to remember it’s not. While that’s not the best news, we simply can’t let our guard down about this virus. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and those around us,” Dr. Zuckerman concludes.

Next Steps & Resources: 


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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