Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | June 12, 2009

Epic Definitions

I’ve been having a discussion with one of my niecelings that boils down to some basic definitions in epidemiology, the study of causes, distribution, and control of disease in populations. In speaking with her and perusing assorted articles on the subject, I find there is a significant misunderstanding of the terminology. So I’m going to say this as clearly as I can:

Epidemiology has nothing to do with the severity of disease.

Here’s an excellent discussion of the terms involved:

The distribution of disease events in populations in time and space can be described by three basic descriptive terms. These are: endemic, epidemic and sporadic.

An endemic disease is a disease that occurs in a population with predictable regularity and with only minor deviations from its expected frequency of occurrence. In endemic diseases, disease events are clustered in space but not in time. Note that a disease may be endemic in a population at any frequency level, provided that it occurs with predictable regularity…

An epidemic disease is a disease that occurs in a population in excess of its normally expected frequency of occurrence. In an epidemic disease, disease events are clustered in time and space. Note that a disease may be epidemic even at a low frequency of occurrence, provided that it occurs in excess of its expected frequency.

A sporadic disease is a disease that is normally absent from a population but which can occur in that population, although rarely and without predictable regularity.

Note that nowhere in those definitions is there any mention of severity of disease. Technically, one could describe an epidemic of hiccups.

Here is how that same source describes a pandemic:

A pandemic is a large epidemic affecting several countries or even one or more continents.

It is a quantitative description (how big), not a qualitative one (how bad).

Thus, the newly announced status of the swine flu as a pandemic deserves the yawn with which it was greeted by my above-referenced nieceling. Nevertheless, if the issue remains unclear, I will try one last time:

EPIDEMIC is to PANDEMIC as

  1. “Dare” is to “Double-dog dare” (pre- and elementary school level)
  2. FAIL is to EPIC FAIL (middle, high school and college level)

ie, a somewhat subjective superlative (everyone else).

Everybody got that now?

Good.

(EPS: Please get your mother to read this.)

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