Today we’re going to break a bit from being so micro focused and instead look at disease on a greater scale. Let’s talk about epidemiology. Especially in modern mainstream media, we hear so many disasterous words being thrown around. Essentially, they are a form of scare tactics enticing us to make sure not to flip channels and stay tuned instead. Let’s clarify some of these things. In this first article, we’ll specifically look at the levels of disease.
The first level is endemic. An endemic simply describes a disease that is usually present in a community. Usually, we’re referring to a specific population or geographic area and the disease maintains a constant presence of some kind. Varicella, or chicken pox, is endemic to North America. In that geographical location, chicken pox is always present at a certain baseline level. Nothing new, nothing crazy going on. Although, it should be noted that varicella is not originally endemic to North America. In fact, it played a role in the European conquest of the continent.
After endemic, we’re onto hyperendemic. Same sort of concept, but as we’ve talked about in other articles or various podcast episodes, hyper just means more, right? So think a disease that is endemic, but at really high levels.
A disease at a sporadic level occurs infrequently and irregularly. These can be very difficult to trace the origins of, due to cases sometimes being few and far between. There are just lets points of data to work with to help narrow the search.
Holoendemic is specific to the children of a population. So, it is endemic to the children but the adult population is not affected to the same level. Sometimes this is a bit tricky to track, too. Adults don’t report diseases near as often as incidences being reported in children.
Next, epidemic or outbreak. These are definitely words that are used as a sort of scare tactic. However, the actual definition of an epidemic is simple when there is an increase to the number of cases of a disease. So, you have your baseline, which we would have established with the idea of a disease being endemic, and then it goes up…pretty much at all. Often there is a level of suddenness with it. Outbreak is the same thing, but is usually much more limited in terms of geographic area. Point being, how open that can be to interpretation. Even a single case can be enough to trigger outbreak warnings.
Cluster is sort of what it sounds like. There are a group of cases that are close to each other geographically and chronologically. These cases are above and beyond the baseline level of the disease for that population or geographic area.
Last, pandemic – which is also one of my favorite board games. Jen loves it, too. We highly recommend checking it out, especially if you like games that pit the players vs the board. The medical term pandemic refers to an epidemic that has crossed national borders. Usually, we’re thinking at least several countries or more than one continent. These are only going to be happening more and more, just due to how much smaller our world keeps getting.
Well, not a super challenging article or anything, but hopefully that clears up some of the language things. We’ll probably tackle more epidemiology things in the future. It’s a very interesting way to learn more about how diseases work!