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What does it mean for a disease to be ‘endemic’?

As viruses such as 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 in comparison with the terms “epidemic” and “pandemic.” Many health officials say that COVID-19 is likely transitioning from pandemic to endemic status in many countries. But what does that mean? 

More broadly, the term “endemic” refers to an organism that’s found in a specific region. In ecology, that means a species that lives only in one geographical area, like a plant or animal limited to an island, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (opens in 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 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in new tab)

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