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Volume 12, Number 6—June 2006

Historical Review

2,500-year Evolution of the Term Epidemic

Paul M.V. Martin*Comments to Author  and Estelle Martin-Granel†
Author affiliations: *Institut Pasteur de Nouvelle Calédonie, Nouméa, New Caledonia; †Collège Enseignement Secondaire Le Bosquet, Bagnols-sur-Cèze, France

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Semantic evolution of the term epidemic

Stage in evolution Meaning Use
Greek: epi (on) and demos (people) (6th century BC); epidemios used by Homer in the Odyssey Who is in his country Nonmedical use
Greek: Sophocles and Hippocrates (second half of the 5th century BC) That which circulates and propagates in a country First medical use
Greek: epidemios established by Hippocrates (430 BC) in the medical sense of a collection of syndromes Sometimes spreading "on the people" Epidemic of diarrhea
Medieval French: ypidime (1256 and later, epidimie) Large number of cases of unique, well-characterized disease Epidemic of cholera
19th century: épidémie (late 18th-century French) and epidemic (18th-century English) Epidemics caused by a microbe belonging to a given genus and species Epidemic of cholera due to Vibrio cholerae
End of 20th century Clonal expansion of an epidemic strain, as defined with molecular markers An epidemic due to V. cholerae El Tor, belonging to a defined ribotype or pulsotype

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