How the World Learned to Manage the Flu

What does it mean for a disease to be “endemic”?

This does not mean that the disease has disappeared. When epidemiologists use the word “endemic”, they mean that a disease occurs “at an expected level in a place over a period of time”, explains epidemiologist René Najera, editor-in-chief of The history of vaccinesan online resource from the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Nor does ‘endemic’ mean that a disease has ceased to be harmful. Malaria, tuberculosis and influenza are serious and potentially fatal endemic diseases that occur every year. Since the 1940s, countries have built strong international health networks that identify strains of influenza in order to control them and avoid the kind of devastation that occurred in the 1918 pandemic. That’s something that epidemiologists and virologists have argued is necessary for COVID-19, and will continue to be necessary if and when the virus becomes endemic.

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