Horse Health Word of the Week: Cancel the epidemic–the word is “epizootic”


It’s October and 2007 is tumbling toward an end. For me, it has been a year of reporting on equine diseases and learning so much. I began the year reporting on the herpes outbreak in Wellington, Florida and hope that I will end the year without the word “disease” in my posts.

I re-learned the word “epizootic” this year; there is no “epidemic” of EI in Australia, since the “dem” in epidemic means a disease spreads among humans. An epizootic (ep-ee-zoo-OHT-ick, phonetically speaking) is the equivalent in the animal world.

My apologies if in my rush to get the news posted I slip up and call it an “epidemic”. I notice that my colleagues at Reuters and the BBC make the same error each day, perhaps assuming that the readers would stumble over the strange word and opting for the more familiar, if inaccurate, misnomer.

Even “epidemic” is technically misused when the press reports on human diseases. There’s a good discussion of the usage of “epidemic” vs. “pandemic” on the oh-so-helpful “Wise Geek” website. We tend to overuse “epidemic” in our rush to get the attention of readers and listeners.

If things keep on the way they have been going, we might all just get used to using the correct term.

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