KALAIN HOSEIN

The world has been inundated with medical terms for the last two years. As we now shift into a phase where the world lives with the virus, some new words have entered your day-to-day conversation.

Specifically, you may have heard a shift in messaging from public health officials from using the world pandemic to epidemic or even endemic, but what does that actually mean?

When COVID-19 was first discovered in China in late 2019, it was considered an epidemic. An epidemic is a sudden or unexpected increase in the number of disease cases above what is usually expected during a period in a population or region. On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that the epidemic has exponentially spread across several countries and affects many people. For example, Trinidad and Tobago was affected by the Swine Flu pandemic from 2009 to 2010, a Zika epidemic in 2015-2016, and now a COVID-19 pandemic.

When we consider living with a virus, the term endemic is used. According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Roshan Parasram, in Wednesday’s Ministry of Health media conference, an endemic is the usual or constant presence of a disease in a given population or geographic area. An endemic disease typically follows seasonal patterns.

According to the CMO, in Trinidad and Tobago, we have three endemic diseases. The most widely discussed is Influenza, which follows a seasonal pattern of cases increasing—from October through May. According to Dr. Parasram, the 2021 influenza season recorded “extremely low” influenza cases. He said this low number of cases also occurred in 2020 and could be attributed to the implemented public health measures for COVID-19.

Gastroenteritis is another endemic disease. The CMO said as a result of public health measures and stay-at-home rules, the level of gastroenteritis in 2021 remained low across the population. The Ministry of Health tracks reported suspected cases for those under five years and those over five years old separately.

“We would have seen some upsurges and down surges in previous years,” the CMO said.

He said these were linked to the opening and closing of schools or changes in seasons.

“You see an increase in gastro(enteritis) during the rainy season as well due to flooding events,” Dr Parasram said.

T&T’s third endemic disease is Dengue, the mosquito-borne illness that can cause eye, muscle, bone, joint pain, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, rashes. Recorded dengue cases peak during January through April, and again in the rainy season during July through October. In 2020, according to the CMO, dengue levels remained low.

“Generally, we’re seeing very low levels of our endemic diseases based on the public health regulations being enforced at this time, and we need to keep a very close eye on it now that restrictions have been lifted to a great extent to see if there would be a resurgence of our endemic diseases in the coming weeks and months,” the CMO said.

However, the Minister of Health, Terrance Deyalsingh MP, emphasized on Wednesday that for COVID-19:

“We have not yet entered the endemic phase. What we are doing is we are preparing for that. We have been very clear in stating that.”