Epidemic vs pandemic

  • Epidemic and pandemic are two words that are easily confused. We will examine the meanings and origins of the words epidemic and pandemic and the difference between the two.


    An epidemic is a widespread outbreak of disease in a particular area. Most diseases that cause an epidemic are spread through the sharing of bodily fluids from person to person. Diseases spread when contagious people come into contact with people who are well; sick people often do not know they are ill because of the incubation period for the disease. Depending on the nature of the epidemic and the rapidity with which it is infectious, reported cases may or may not be accurate. The development of immunization has greatly reduced disease outbreaks or epidemics and the death toll when they do occur. The expression epidemic may be used figuratively to mean that something is widespread. The word epidemic is derived from the Greek word epidēmios , which means upon the people.


    A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that has spread across many countries–sometimes the entire world. There have been many pandemics across human history, though today, there are considerably fewer because of disease prevention measures such as mosquito control, immunizations, and simple sanitation. Many diseases like variola or smallpox, diphtheria, tuberculosis, whooping cough or pertussis, measles, polio, typhus, cholera, and bubonic plague or the Black Death that were once a scourge for people worldwide now are eradicated, rarely occur, or if they do occur, outbreaks are easily brought under control. Some pandemics have occurred in recent times with emerging infectious diseases or new viruses that originate in animals such as birds, bats, or monkeys and spread from human to human, such as SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome, Ebola in West Africa, H1N1 influenza or swine flu, and H5N1 or avian flu. Disease control centers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States advise health systems about how to contain outbreaks of virus disease and protect health care workers while they protect the public health. Epidemiologists who work for the World Health Organization and other institutions track endemic or local, common infectious disease as well as novel, infectious disease that may affect global health to avoid pandemics. When no vaccine or antiviral medications exist to fight a disease, quarantine may be necessary to contain a pandemic. The word pandemic is rarely used in a figurative sense. Pandemic is derived from the Greek word pandēmos, which means all people.


    But the veteran HIV/AIDS researcher, who has been involved with every epidemic over the past 40 years—and has even treated Ebola patients—is a familiar face to scientists, health officials, and politicians, having led NIAID for decades and advised presidents all the way back to Ronald Reagan. (Science Magazine)

    The Gujarat government has issued a notification declaring coronavirus as an epidemic disease under the Indian Epidemic Act, 1897, empowering certain officials to take action against classified cases as part of preventive measures. (The Deccan Herald)

    Trump won the Presidency while pledging to wall America off from the world; the covid-19 pandemic has reinforced his deep-seated belief in this impossibility. (The New Yorker)

    Cases that involve travellers who have been infected in a foreign country and have then returned to their home country, or who have been infected by that traveller, known as the “index case”, do not count towards declaring a pandemic. (The Guardian)

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