Patterns of Disease Incidence

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The 2007–2008 influenza season in the United States saw much higher than normal numbers of visits to emergency departments for influenza-like symptoms as compared to the previous and the following years. (credit: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The seasonal epidemic threshold (blue curve) is set by the CDC-based data from the previous five years. When actual mortality rates exceed this threshold, a disease is considered to be epidemic. As this graph shows, pneumonia- and influenza-related mortality saw pronounced epidemics during the winters of 2003–2004, 2005, and 2008. (credit: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

Diseases that are seen only occasionally, and usually without geographic concentration, are called sporadic diseases. Examples of sporadic diseases include tetanus, rabies, and plague. In the United States, Clostridium tetani, the bacterium that causes tetanus, is ubiquitous in the soil environment, but incidences of infection occur only rarely and in scattered locations because most individuals are vaccinated, clean wounds appropriately, or are only rarely in a situation that would cause infection. Likewise in the United States there are a few scattered cases of plague each year, usually contracted from rodents in rural areas in the western states.

Diseases that are constantly present (often at a low level) in a population within a particular geographic region are called endemic diseases. For example, malaria is endemic to some regions of Brazil, but is not endemic to the United States.

Diseases for which a larger than expected number of cases occurs in a short time within a geographic region are called epidemic diseases. Influenza is a good example of a commonly epidemic disease. Incidence patterns of influenza tend to rise each winter in the northern hemisphere. These seasonal increases are expected, so it would not be accurate to say that influenza is epidemic every winter; however, some winters have an usually large number of seasonal influenza cases in particular regions, and such situations would qualify as epidemics.

An epidemic disease signals the breakdown of an equilibrium in disease frequency, often resulting from some change in environmental conditions or in the population. In the case of influenza, the disruption can be due to antigenic shift or drift, which allows influenza virus strains to circumvent the acquired immunity of their human hosts.

An epidemic that occurs on a worldwide scale is called a pandemic disease. For example, HIV/AIDS is a pandemic disease and novel influenza virus strains often become pandemic.

Source:

Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology

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