Word of the Month: Tsuris

David Zapatka

Friend Marty Minnich and I were discussing the coronavirus pandemic when he closed his email with this statement, “I hope you and I will see each other fairly soon on the other side of all this tsuris.” Marty loves words, so threw in tsuris at the end of his message. He’s a fellow verbivore.

Tsuris: noun tsu·ris/ˈtso͝oris,ˈtsər/ trouble, woe, aggravation

Origin and Etymology: Yiddish tsures, plural of tsure, tsore trouble, distress, from Hebrew ṣārāh

First Used: 1901

Is COVID-19 an epidemic, endemic, or pandemic as mentioned in the first sentence above? The distinction between the words “epidemic”, “endemic”, and “pandemic” is regularly blurred, even by medical experts. This is because the definition of each term is fluid and changes as diseases become more or less prevalent over time. What is an “outbreak”? Conversational use of these words may not require precise definitions, but knowing the difference is important to help better understand public health news.

An epidemic is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region.

Endemic is something that belongs to a particular people or country.

A pandemic is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents.

An outbreak is a greater-than-anticipated increase in the number of endemic cases. It can be a single case in a new area. If not quickly controlled, an outbreak can become an epidemic.

A simple way to know the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is to remember the “P” in pandemic, which means a pandemic has a passport. A pandemic is an epidemic that travels. What’s the difference between epidemic and endemic? An epidemic is often localized to a region and actively spreading, but the number of those infected in that region is significantly higher than normal. When COVID-19 was limited to Wuhan, China, it was an epidemic. The geographical spread turned it into a pandemic. Endemics are a constant presence in a specific location. Malaria is endemic to parts of Africa. An endemic can lead to an outbreak and an outbreak can happen anywhere. Last summer’s dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii is an example. Dengue fever is endemic to certain regions of Africa, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Mosquitoes in these areas carry dengue fever transmitting it from person to person. 2019 saw an outbreak of dengue fever in Hawaii where the disease is not endemic. It’s believed an infected person was bitten by mosquitoes while visiting the Big Island. The insects transferred the disease to other individuals they bit which created an outbreak.

You can see why these words are confusing. They’re all related to one another, and there’s a natural ebb and flow between them as treatments become available and measures for control are put in place.

Have you been staying active and healthy during this pandemic? Please submit your experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column, or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to dzapatka@wbhsi.net.