Endemic, epidemic, pandemic – what’s the difference?

Endemic, epidemic or pandemic? Due to the rapid spread of the corona virus in many countries, various technical terms are used. We generally explain the difference.

One speaks of endemic, epidemic & pandemic especially in the area of ​​infectious diseases. They are characterized by the following differences:

Classification of diseases by frequency and regional distribution


An endemic is an illness that occurs frequently in a certain region or among a certain population and is locally limited. These include diseases such as cholera and malaria, which are present throughout parts of Africa.

  • From Greek en = “within” and demos = “people”, ie “indigenous”
  • Diseases that occur regularly in a population
  • The cause of the disease is always present
  • There is no epidemic or pandemic


Epidemics include diseases that, although similar to an endemic, are localized, but in contrast, they suddenly show up with a high increase in new cases.

  • From Greek epi = “in the middle”, “from the middle” and demos = “people”, ie “spread among the people”
  • Unusual clustering of a disease within a population

A well-known example of an epidemic is Ebola, which had a sudden outbreak in Africa in the mid-2010s that cost many lives. However, the disease was found almost exclusively in West Africa, which is why we speak of an epidemic and not a pandemic.


A pandemic is the spread of an infectious disease that, like an epidemic, suddenly occurs with a high number of new cases, but in contrast, it spreads across borders and can lead to a global problem.

  • From Greek pan = “all”, “everyone” and demos = “people”, ie “concerning the whole people”, “spread throughout the people”
  • Cross-border or even worldwide outbreak of an illness
  • In contrast to the epidemic, it is not local, so it can affect the entire world population and does not stop at any border
  • But also areas that are not affected by the disease (e.g. mountain valleys, peoples in the jungle or inhabitants of lonely islands)

Cases like the SARS pandemic of 2002 and 2003, which belongs to the same virus family as the novel corona virus.


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