Flashcards for Medical Anthropology
Topics 3-4:  Epidemiology and Culture Specific Diseases
(12 cards)

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Copyright © 2004 by Dennis O'Neil. All rights reserved.

The field of medical research that studies the causes of diseases and how to cure or control them. Doctors in this field track the frequency and geographic distribution of diseases over time. In addition, they study the causal relationships between diseases.


The general term for a disease that is usually highly contagious but is not always present in a community. These diseases appear, rise rapidly in the number of cases, and then decline or even disappear—e.g., measles, influenza, and the plague.

epidemic disease

The general term for a disease that is always present in a community, usually at a low, more or less constant frequency—e.g., malaria, arthritis, and high blood pressure.

endemic disease

The general term for an endemic disease present at a continuously high frequency within a population.

hyperendemic disease

The general term for an epidemic that becomes unusually widespread and even global in its reach.


The general term for epidemic diseases like the “Spanish flu” that infected 1/5 of all people in the world and killed 20-40 million of them in 1918.


The term for an intermediate host and/or disease transmitting organism for a contagious disease. Mosquitoes, fleas, lice, ticks, flies, and even snails have this role for some diseases.

disease vector

The general term for diseases resulting from urban air and water pollution, over-crowding, and environmental changes resulting from large-scale development projects such as the construction of dams.

diseases of development

The term for a disease that has a very limited distribution around the world due to the unique sets of environmental circumstances and cultural practices that cause it to occur.

culture bound syndrome (or culture specific disease)

A fatal culture specific disease of the brain and nervous system that was found among the South Foré people of the eastern New Guinea Highlands.


A culture bound syndrome reported occasionally in the past among some of the Indians living around the Great Lakes of Canada and the United States. Individuals with this condition developed a characteristic delusion of being transformed into a supernatural human flesh eating monster.

windigo psychosis

A condition in which people develop an irrational perception that their sex organs are withdrawing into their bodies and subsequently being lost as a result of "unhealthy sex" or "tainted" food. This culture bound syndrome is found in China and areas of Southeast Asia where Chinese culture has diffused (especially Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore).