Although there is still a long way to go and no one can predict when it will occur, COVID-19 is on its way to becoming an endemic disease. This has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). But what does a really mean? endemic COVID-19 and how does it affect us?
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“The virus is on the way to becoming endemic, but we are not there yet,” María Van Kerkhove, WHO technical chief for COVID-19, anticipated in January 2021, although she warned that the scenario is still unpredictable.
“We don’t have the same predictability that we have with influenza, where we have a typical seasonal pattern. We may get there with COVID-19, but we’re not there yet, so we’re cautious about making predictions,” he said.
A disease is epidemic when the number of cases is unusually large or unexpected in a certain territory, for which public health measures are needed to control its expansion.
When an epidemic is no longer confined to a certain territory and spreads to a larger scale, for example the entire world, it is a pandemic. Depending on the severity, it can turn into a global emergency.
When a virus like SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to cause severe disease (like COVID-19) and is also highly transmissible, the lack of immunity causes the spread to accelerate.
However, this scenario is not eternal, as the WHO has recognized.
When immunity increases in the population, both through vaccination and natural contagion, a pathogen such as a virus loses strength and its transmission capacity is reduced.
The transmission capacity of the virus is also reduced by cultural or behavioral changes. In the case of COVID-19, the use of masks or limit physical contact.
Population immunity also reduces the ability of the virus to cause disease, so fewer people get seriously ill or die.
According The Conversationover a longer period, the virus may evolve to become less severe.
Also, transmission becomes more predictable: there may be seasonal outbreaks, for example. However, these are expected and manageable. The community begins to live with the virus.
In any case, the WHO is committed to a comprehensive and global approach. “We cannot end the pandemic and make the virus quote-unquote endemic in one country while the rest of the world deals with the pandemic. That’s not how this is going to work,” Van Kerkhove said.
That a disease is endemic does not mean that it is less serious, warn researchers Hassan Vally and Catherine Bennett, from Deakin University, Australia.
In fact, examples of endemic diseases include the common cold, influenza, and also HIV/AIDS.
“It is important to note that a disease that is considered endemic does not mean that we consider it mild. It simply means that it is still a part of our lives and therefore we still protect the vulnerable from serious illness, as we do with other diseases.”
In this sense, they warn that “it is crucial that we understand that living with the virus is not the same as ignoring it. Instead, it represents an adjustment in how we respond to the disease.”