What is the Difference Between a Pandemic and an Epidemic?

There’s a difference between a pandemic and an epidemic, and it’s directly related to how many people are infected, and where those people live in relation to one another.

Is It a Pandemic or an Epidemic?

An epidemic is a sickness that is limited to a specific region or county. In some cases it might even be limited to a certain city. A pandemic will often move past borders to infect more people and become global. An epidemic is the beginnings of a problem that might or might not develop into a pandemic. The ease with which it’ll turn into a pandemic will depend on the seriousness of the virus.

An epidemic can be kept local when it’s a virus that’s been seen before. People are able to fight against it. It’s not transferred beyond the city or region because there’s some immunity for people that keeps it from spreading uncontrollably.

A pandemic starts locally but quickly grows and spreads beyond the city, state or region to begin impacting more countries. It’s normally a strain of virus that hasn’t been seen before, or it’s one that hasn’t been seen in a long time. Immunity is almost non-existent, which helps it to spread.

Cases of Influenza

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world can expect to get seasonal influenza. It’s a known virus that doesn’t reach the pandemic stage because it’s a known virus that is already circulating. Pandemics would involve a flu virus that hasn’t been seen for a very long time if at all. They’ll cause more deaths than a known virus.

Common pandemics usually involve the influenza virus. A pandemic can begin when the virus changes, which is called an “antigenic shift.” The only characteristic that matters with the new antigenic shift is whether the virus can be communicated to other humans. If it’s easily transmissible, it can quickly become a pandemic.

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Once a pandemic has begun, the virus can often circulate for a few years. As time passes, less people are infected because the population has started to build an immunity. While people might get sick each year from the same virus, it’ll be limited to epidemics. There are a few organizations that track and report on epidemics and announce pandemics when they happen. Those agencies are the World Health Organization, Health Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent Pandemics in History

The last pandemic was the 2009 and 2010 H1N1 pandemic. The World Health Organization, or WHO, alerted the media on June 11, 2009 regarding influenza A, or H1N1. They raised the level of the pandemic alert worldwide to a Phase 6. Over 70 countries saw reported cases of the novel influenza.

The reason for the raised level of awareness to the flu was because of how widespread the virus had become. It wasn’t based on the severity of the illness caused by the virus.

The difference between a pandemic and an epidemic is in the virus itself, the amount of people infected and where those people are. In the past, there were serious pandemics that resulted in the loss of millions of lives. We haven’t seen a pandemic of epic proportions since the Black Death in the 1300s, which killed 75 million people.