Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link
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

Main Article


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

Main Article

Page created: December 21, 2011
Page updated: December 21, 2011
Page reviewed: December 21, 2011
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.