AskDefine | Define prevalence

Dictionary Definition



1 the quality of prevailing generally; being widespread; "he was surprised by the prevalence of optimism about the future"
2 (epidemiology) the ratio (for a given time period) of the number of occurrences of a disease or event to the number of units at risk in the population
3 a superiority in numbers or amount; "there is a preponderance of Blacks in our prisons" [syn: preponderance]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The quality or condition of being prevalent; superior strength, force, or influence; general existence, reception, or practice; wide extension; as the prevalence of virtue, of a fashion, or of a disease; the prevalence of a rumor.

Extensive Definition


In epidemiology, the prevalence of a disease in a statistical population is defined as the total number of cases of the disease in the population at a given time, or the total number of cases in the population, divided by the number of individuals in the population.
Mathematically prevalence can be defined as follows
let a = the number of individuals in the population with the disease at a given time
let b = the number of individuals in the population without the disease at a given time
Prevalence = \frac

Examples and Utility

For example, the prevalence of obesity among American adults in 2001 was estimated by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at approximately 20.9%. In plain English, "prevalence" simply means "extent", but in scientific English it means "proportion" (typically expressed as a percentage).
Prevalence is useful because it is a measure of the commonality of disease. It helps physicians with the probability of certain diagnoses and is routinely used by epidemiologists, health care providers, government agencies, and insurance companies.
Prevalence is distinct from incidence. Prevalence is a measurement of all individuals affected by the disease at a given point in time, regardless of the date of contraction; whereas incidence is a measurement of individuals who contract the disease during a specified time interval.
To illustrate, a long term disease that was spread widely in a community in 2002 will have a high prevalence at a given point of 2003 (assuming it has a long duration) but it might have a low incidence rate during 2003. Conversely, a disease that is easily transmitted but has a short duration is spread widely during 2002 is likely to have a low prevalence at any given point in 2003 (due to its short duration) but a high incidence during 2003 (as many people develop the disease). As such, prevalence is a useful parameter when talking about long lasting diseases, such as HIV, but incidence is more useful when talking about diseases of short duration, such as chickenpox.
Lifetime prevalence (LTP) is the number of individuals in a statistical population that at some point in their life (up to the time of assessment) have experienced a "case" (e.g., a disorder), compared to the total number of individuals (i.e. it is expressed as a ratio or percentage). Often, a 12-month prevalence (or some other type of "period prevalence") is used in conjunction with lifetime prevalence. There is also point prevalence, the prevalence of disorder at a more specific (a month or less) point in time. There is also a related figure lifetime morbid risk - the theoretical prevalence at any point in life for anyone, regardless of time of assessment. (example: Synopsis of article on "How Prevalent Is Schizophrenia?" from Public Library of Science)
prevalence in Catalan: Prevalença
prevalence in German: Prävalenz
prevalence in Spanish: Prevalencia
prevalence in French: Prévalence
prevalence in Italian: Prevalenza (medicina)
prevalence in Japanese: 有病割合
prevalence in Dutch: Prevalentie
prevalence in Norwegian: Prevalens
prevalence in Polish: Chorobowość
prevalence in Russian: Болезненность
prevalence in Slovak: Prevalencia
prevalence in Swedish: Prevalens
prevalence in Chinese: 患病数

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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