What is an endemic disease?

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An endemic disease occur in a specific geographical area or region. With globalisation, we’re seeing an upsurge of outbreaks in countries where these diseases, such as monkeypox, are not traditionally found.

Ebola, malaria, monkeypox. All these diseases are most commonly found in countries with tropical climates and impoverished communities, making them endemic to these countries. But could they stop being endemic because of global population shifts, or because of the effects of climate change?

What is an endemic disease?

A disease is endemic when it is consistently prevalent but confined to a particular region. This makes disease spread and rates predictable and confined to that particular region. Malaria, for example, is considered endemic in certain tropical countries and regions, while Europe reports few cases in the south, so it is not considered endemic to the continent.

Endemic diseases are not always present at high levels. They can also be relatively rare, such as monkeypox. The defining characteristic of a regional endemic disease is that it is always present in the population living there.

When diseases spread to non-endemic countries

In recent years we have witnessed how some diseases have adapted and spread to new regions as a result of climate change and ecosystem breakdowns. The movement of people on a global scale also contributes to the spread of diseases to non-endemic countries.

We have experienced this with COVID-19 and now with monkeypox, which has caused outbreaks in 21 countries in Europe since May 2022. Before, the spread of this zoonosis was limited to remote areas of central and western Africa. Now, there have been more than 1,600 cases reported outside Africa, with people infected via direct contact with fluids.

And this type of unusual transmission is on the rise. It underscores the importance of recognising that global health is interconnected, and that the fight against infectious diseases should be a global effort.

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Mikel Edeso
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