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Commonly Confused Words: Epidemic, Endemic, Pandemic

August 28, 2017

It’s not hard to see why people confuse these words. They all deal with diseases, deal with boundaries, and end in “emic.” Epidemic and endemic are probably misused the most since they look and sound the most similar. We’ll walk you through their distinct meanings so you never embarrass yourself in scientific or political conversations again!

Their Meanings

Epidemic: a disease that spreads out in a limited area

Endemic: a disease that occurs perennially among a certain people or in a certain area

Pandemic: a disease that spreads over a large region or possibly the entire world

Their Usage and Some Examples

Epidemic is often used as a noun but can be used as an adjective:

A flu epidemic broke out in the city.
(Used as a noun)

Skipping class has reached epidemic proportions at the high school.
(Used as an adjective. Note that the adjective meaning relates to the nature of an epidemic and doesn’t have to describe a disease)

Endemic always refers to a disease, not a region. A region cannot be endemic.

Yellow Fever is endemic to some parts of South America

Pandemic will always deal with a vast area.

In the novel, a new plague pandemic wiped out half the world’s population

Their Pasts

The meanings of these words haven’t really changed over the years, so there’s no scandalous etymology to be found here. Sorry, maybe next time.


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