Normally I would use forms of the words epidemic, pandemic, or infection but these would imply that the disease is contagious. Are there any words that mean a disease has spread but is not contagious?

Eg: "Instances of diabetes have spread throughout the city."

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    Are you looking for a word that specifically implies a lack of contagion, or simply a word that does not necessarily imply it? Epidemic is a perfectly good word for the latter. Oct 10, 2013 at 6:08
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    I'm not even sure thinking in terms of has spread is helpful if it's not contagious - has become widespread might be closer to the mark. I suppose you could argue that a lifestyle-related disease could spread socially from an initial point of popularity of the cause, but that's stretching it a bit.
    – Chris H
    Oct 10, 2013 at 7:23
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    Some diseases can "spread" through mechanisms other than contagion, especially inherited and lifestyle-related illnesses. The "obesity epidemic" is a well-known example (and a good example of why epidemic is fine for this usage). Oct 10, 2013 at 10:40
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    @Mari-LouA: Infectious and contagious don't actually mean the same thing, there is a slight difference, though in general parlance, the words are usually interchangeable. Infectious actually means its transmissable on the air, or airborne; contagious is transmissable by contact/touch.
    – bamboo
    Oct 10, 2013 at 11:47
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    @Mari-LouA Obesity is considered a disease by some, but if you don't agree, it's still possible to have an epidemic of malaria, West Nile, cancer, depression, and other non-contagious diseases. Oct 10, 2013 at 18:47

6 Answers 6


Epidemic means only that the disease has spread more than expected; pandemic that it has spread to other countries. It doesn't have to be contagious — Bradd Szonye is correct in that — but it could be, so if you really want "words that mean a disease has spread but is not contagious" epidemic doesn't specifically say that.

You could try outbreak:

a sudden, violent, or spontaneous occurrence, esp of disease or strife

  • Unfortunately, outbreak doesn't specify non-contagion any better than epidemic does. In many cases they're synonymous. Oct 10, 2013 at 5:43
  • If the outbreak where contagious, wouldn't you call it an epidemic or a contagion? Oct 10, 2013 at 5:50
  • No, it's quite common to have an outbreak of chicken pox at a school, for example. That's contagious but not an epidemic. Oct 10, 2013 at 5:53
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    Ha I am with Bradd on this one - outbreak and epidemic go hand and hand. First something is an outbreak and turns into epidemic... could be contagious or not. Oct 10, 2013 at 6:02
  • A defining characteristic of an epidemic is how fast it spreads, hence the implication of infection as non-infectious diseases tend not to spread so fast. A defining characteristic of an outbreak is passing attempts to control it, hence the outbreak of chickenpox - it wasn't there but now it is. I figure that on that basis an outbreak implies 'less infectious' than an epidemic. Oct 10, 2013 at 6:19

In medical/veterinary fields, the word prevalence means:

the total number of cases of a specific disease in existence in a given population at a certain time

(Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, p 920; Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 31st Ed., p 1536)

And the word prevalent means:

widespread occurrence (Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, p 920)

I think you could say that a disease is prevalent in a community without necessarily implying that it was spread by contagion. You are just stating that it is now widespread.

  • Note: You can't use "prevalent", that's an adjective and doesn't answer your question. You need a noun. Oct 11, 2013 at 13:27
  • @HardyStewz, I don't agree that the OP was asking for a noun.
    – JLG
    Oct 12, 2013 at 14:46

Endemic is not applied strictly to diseases, but it connotes both pervasive and entrenched. You could certainly say that "Obesity is endemic in the United States."

natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place; native; indigenous: endemic >folkways; countries where high unemployment is endemic.


Apparently it can also be used as a noun specifically to describe a disease, although I (native US English speaker) am not familiar with this usage:

noun 3. an endemic disease.



First note that epidemic is an appropriate word even if the disease is non-communicable:

An epidemic disease is not required to be contagious, and the term has been applied to West Nile fever and the obesity epidemic, among others.

However, if you would prefer a word that has fewer associations with communicable disease, consider rampant, rise, sweeping, upsurge, wave, or crisis. These words are not specific to disease, but they address its spread without implying contagion. Most of them are suitable to replace epidemic as a noun (“the obesity epidemic”); rampant and sweeping can replace adjectival uses (“epidemic disease”).

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    That doesn't answer the question and seems more like a comment. The "but is not contagious" part was clearly not met since in your answer and your answer states that epidemic could be used either way. Also the author gave the word epidemic and was not happy with it - rightly so since it doesn't answer the question. Oct 10, 2013 at 5:17
  • I read the question as asking for a word that does not imply contagion. Epidemic is such a word. The question is incorrect to rule it out. If the poster wants a word that specifically means non contagious, it should be more specific. (Although I don't think such a word exists.) Oct 10, 2013 at 5:22
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    The question rejects epidemic specifically because it implies contagion – but that is not true! Oct 10, 2013 at 5:54
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    "Epidemic" implies contagion, even if it is not strictly true. Some dictionaries even define epidemic as contagious ~ 'a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time' -> oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/epidemic or 'Spreading rapidly and extensively by infection' -> thefreedictionary.com/epidemic Oct 10, 2013 at 6:06
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    The question is ambiguous as written, and I have asked for clarification. I seriously doubt, however, that there is any word that implies widespread disease but not contagion. However, I have added a few words which imply widespread, and are often used in the context of disease. I hope that addresses your concerns with my original answer. Oct 10, 2013 at 6:11

I'd call that the plague of [ the disease name ]. Or perhaps the blight of [ the disease name ]. Yes, that's the figurative sense, but for some settings that might not present a problem.


"Epidemic" may be used to describe a disease which has spread and is/is not contagious.

I believe you are using epidemic as a noun, and with that in mind I suggest an example for comparison, for fun;

"Normally I would use forms of the words "stage" or "phase" for a period of time, but these would imply the period of time is finished. Are there any "nouns" for a period of time which has occurred but is not finished?" I've ruled out "stage" as a possible answer for, in my opinion, the word "stage" implies the period of time is finished. As a matter of fact, I rule out all nouns which could be used to describe a period of time which is finished.

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