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What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

What is a pandemic? A pandemic is an outbreak of global proportions. It happens when a new bacteria or virus becomes able to spread rapidly. It causes serious illness and is easily passed from one person to another, thus spreading across a wide geographic area and affecting many people.

The word pandemic comes from the Greek pandemos which means “belonging to all people” (pan = all; demos = people).


What is an epidemic? An epidemic is specific to a city, region or country, as opposed to a pandemic that extends beyond national borders, possibly throughout the world.

An epidemic occurs when the number of people experiencing an infection is greater than the number expected within a country or part of a country. If an infection becomes widespread in several countries at the same time, it can turn into a pandemic.


What Causes a Pandemic?

The most common cause of a pandemic is a new strain or subtype of virus that becomes easily transmissible between humans , or by bacteria that become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Sometimes pandemics are simply triggered by a new ability for the disease to spread rapidly, as was the case with the Black Death.


Humans may have little or no immunity against a new virus. A new virus need not be able to spread from person to person, but if it changes or mutates, it can easily begin to spread. In this case, a pandemic may occur.

In the case of the flu, seasonal outbreaks (or epidemics) are usually caused by subtypes of a virus that are already circulating among us.

Pandemics, on the other hand, are generally caused by new subtypes. These subtypes have not circulated among people before.

More differences

A pandemic affects more people and can be more deadly than an epidemic. It can also lead to more social disruption, financial loss, and general hardship.

After the pandemic emerges and spreads, humans develop some immunity. So the virus subtype can circulate among humans for several years, leading to occasional epidemics (flu, for example).

Various agencies around the world, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitor the behavior and movements of viruses.

Historical pandemics and epidemics

– Plague of Justinian Year 541 AD
-Black Death Period: 1346-1350
– Cholera 1899-1923
Spanish flu (H1N1) 1918-1920
-Asian Flu (H2N2) 1957-1958
-Hong Kong Flu 1968-1969
– Avian flu (H1N1) 2009

The Spanish flu pandemic, from 1918 to 1920, claimed 100 million lives. It is considered the worst pandemic in history.

Some viruses are present in animals, but they rarely spread to humans. But, on occasion, an event may occur that makes it possible. Hence, health authorities are vigilant and concerned when a case of an animal virus that passes to humans arises, as this may be an indication that the virus is changing.

In recent years, there has been increasing concern about viruses that have been linked to camels (which cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS) and monkeys (Ebola).

If a pandemic arises today, many problems could arise , because we currently have much more international mobility and are more likely to live in cities than in the past, factors that increase the risk of virus spread; faster communication increases the risk of panic and the possibility that people who may be infected will travel in an attempt to escape the disease, taking the virus with them; the vaccine could take months or years to become available, because pandemic viruses are novel agents; medical facilities would be overwhelmed and there could be a shortage of staff to provide vital community services, both due to demand and illness.

Despite the great medical advances in recent years, it is unlikely that we would be able to obtain full protection against a possible pandemic, due to the novel nature of the diseases involved.

How do you try to stop a pandemic such as the new coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2?

The WHO declared a coronavirus pandemic on March 11, 2020. In order that pandemics do not spread throughout the world, a series of measures are carried out limited to the target territory with the intention that it is not transmitted in a manner uncontrolled between the different countries of the globe.

Once potential pathogens of the virus and their behavior are predicted, the researchers begin to contrast the data they have and generate new models that allow them to predict in the short term how the epidemic in question will spread. Key questions are: the incubation period, the lethality of the virus, the infection factor …

The goal is to mitigate the damage as much as possible . Hence, the decision to suspend flights to the country and limit traffic is one of the measures that is most quickly addressed.

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