Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 22 Jul 2021

The epidemiological termepidemic is defined for a condition that is normally rare in a population but in a short space of time has become widespread 1. It may refer to both infectious diseases (for example, Zika virus epidemic in Brazil 6) but also other conditions, e.g. the obesity epidemic.

For example, when COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan it was a new infection restricted to a few individuals, however it rapidly became epidemic as it spread throughout the city, the province and then China. As the epidemic went global it became a pandemic, which is - in essence - an extensive epidemic. In time, COVID-19 will likely become endemic.

History and etymology

Epidemic is derived from the Classical Greek, ἐπί (epi) meaning "near/upon/above" and δῆμος (demos) meaning "people". From the same origin comes words like epidemiology.

Epidemics in literature
Classical literature
  • The Iliad by Homer 4
Italian literature
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio 2
  • The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni 3
Modern Literature
  • The Scarlet plague by Jack London 5

See also

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