Is Endemic an Endless Pandemic?

The word “endemic” is quickly becoming the buzzword du jour for media outlets, health publications, and social media sites. As your trusty guide to understanding sometimes-cryptic COVID-19 messaging, we thought we’d address what this word means, why it’s peppered throughout your Instagram feed and how it affects your life.

This term could spark a scary question for anyone who did not get a degree in epidemiology: does endemic mean we wind up living in an endless pandemic?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no, but like any breakup with a stage-five clinger, it’s complicated. As the CDC writes (literally in a Principles of Epidemiology lesson), endemic “refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.”

Here’s why endemics happen. All a virus wants to do is spread. A virus doesn’t want to cause severe illness or death in its host because then it cannot do what it loves most: replicate and spread to other hosts. Mutations, like Omicron, allow a virus, like COVID, to spread much faster than the original one, and that is why we do not see the original COVID strain anymore. All viruses evolve over time, and they all become less deadly because what is the only thing a virus really wants to do – say it like you mean it – is SPREAD!

If you’re still skeptical, consider the fact that the flu strains that circulate every season are, you guessed it, mutations of the 1918 flu that killed over 50 million people worldwide. Thus, the flu has become endemic. Don’t panic – it will not take 100 years for COVID to become endemic; the 1918 flu pandemic diminished by the 1920s, and that was due to high levels of immunity that forced the flu mutations to become less virulent to stay transmissible.

All in all, this is a good thing, but don’t host a celebratory mask burning party just yet. We don’t know when we will reach an endemic state, so it’s still critical to take precautions like getting vaccinated and boosted, avoiding travel to high-risk countries, masking up, and the other guidelines we cover here. It’s also important that we make getting the entire world vaccinated a priority, so check out how you can support Gavi and the WHO in their efforts to push vaccine equity. Ultimately, this is the only way to choke the more virulent mutations of the virus so that we can put the pandemic behind us.

Alas, there is a light at the end of the (albeit very, very long) tunnel. If you need any help navigating through the darkness, for now, don’t hesitate to contact us today.