The difference between pandemic and epidemic

What is a pandemic? A  pandemic is an outbreak of global proportions. It happens when a new bacterium or virus becomes capable of spreading rapidly. It causes a serious illness and moves easily from one person to another, so it spreads across a wide geographic area and affects many people.

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

What is an epidemic? A  epidemic is specific to a city, region or country, unlike the pandemic that extends beyond national borders, possibly all over the world.

An epidemic occurs when the number of people who experience an infection is greater than the amount expected within a country or part of a country. If an infection becomes widespread in several countries at the same time, it can become 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 among humans , or bacteria that become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Sometimes, pandemics are caused simply by a new capacity of the disease to spread rapidly, as happened with the Black Death.

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

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

Pandemics, on the other hand, are usually 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 upheavals, economic losses and difficulties in general.

After the pandemic emerges and spreads, humans develop some immunity. Then, the subtype of virus can circulate among humans for several years, which leads to occasional epidemics ( influenza , for example).

One of the biggest concerns today is resistance to antibiotics; the resistant strains of tuberculosis are among the most worrisome

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.

Pandemics and historical epidemics

-Muerte Negra Period: 1346-1350
-Colera 1899-1923
– Spanish flu (H1N1) 1918-1920
-Asian influenza (H2N2) 1957-1958
-Hong Kong 1968-1969
-Animal 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 rarely spread to humans. But, on occasion, an event that makes it possible may occur. 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 an increase in concern about viruses that have been linked to camels (which cause the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS) and monkeys (Ebola).

If a pandemic were to arise today, many problems could arise , because we currently have much more international mobility and more likely to live in  cities than in the past, factors that increase the risk of spreading viruses; faster communication increases the risk of panic and the possibility that people who may be infected travel in an attempt to escape the disease, taking the virus with them; the vaccine could take months or years to be 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 for the demand and for the disease.

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

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