COVID-19: Declared as Pandemic and how is it different from an epidemic?

COVID-19 cases have increased outside China and the number of countries affected has tripled. Therefore, WHO declared COVID-19 disease from epidemic to pandemic on 11 March, 2020. Let us study about the difference between an epidemic, pandemic, and outbreak.
Created On: Mar 12, 2020 11:03 IST
Modified On: Mar 12, 2020 11:03 IST
What is an outbreak, epidemic and pandemic?
What is an outbreak, epidemic and pandemic?

Do you know more than 118,000 cases of COVID-19 have been found in 114 countries and 4,291 people have lost their lives? In fact, thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals. It is a matter of concern. Let us tell you that Pandemic word should not be taken lightly or carelessly. If it is misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over and may lead to unnecessary suffering and death.

What is an outbreak?

When an outbreak disease is a matter of concern? Coronavirus infection is rising around the world. Even in the past, we have seen the Zika outbreak, an Ebola epidemic or an HIV pandemic. Sometimes we might get confused as to how large these diseases are dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an outbreak refers to a disease when it occurs in greater numbers than expected in a community or region. It can spread across countries. It can last just a few days or persist for years. It can range from food poisoning to enterovirus to seasonal flu. A single case of contagious disease sometimes is considered an outbreak. It can be true for an unknown disease or a disease that is new to a community or has been absent from a population for a long time.

What is an epidemic?

When an outbreak spreads over a larger geographical area is considered an epidemic. In other words, we can say that an epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to various people.

What is a pandemic?

It is a global epidemic. It refers to the scale of destruction that is how widespread illness is then how lethal it is. Or in other words, we can say that when an epidemic affects a large portion of the population across the world.

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Now, let us see about coronavirus or COVID-19

First, it is clear that coronavirus disease is an outbreak that was first reported in Wuhan, China. It is an outbreak and is spreading in several countries of the world. 

So, now the question arises that is coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a pandemic?

According to the World Health Organisation, when a new disease spread in the whole world it becomes pandemic. That is when an epidemic spread into two or more continents with the sustained person to person transmission. However, on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak from epidemic to pandemic. 

Let us have a look at Pandemic history.

Over the last century, several flu pandemics spread, including the 2009-1010 "swine" or H1N1 pandemic. In 1918, the deadly pandemic caused by an H1N1 virus, of avian origin. It is also known as Spanish flu. From where the virus originated is not yet found. In the United States, it is estimated that the 1918 pandemic caused about 675,000 deaths in the United States.

Third Cholera Pandemic (1852-1860)

Death Toll: 1 million

Cause: Cholera

Flu Pandemic (1889-1890)

Death Toll: 1 million

Cause: Influenza

Sixth Cholera Pandemic (1910-1911)

Death Toll: 800,000+

Cause: Cholera

Flu Pandemic (1918)

Death Toll: 20-50 million

Cause: Influenza

Asian Flu (1956-58)

Death Toll: 2 million

Cause: influenza

Flu Pandemic (1968)

Death Toll: 1 million

Cause: Influenza

HIV/AIDS Pandemic (From 2005 to 2012 at its peak)

Death Toll: 36 million

Cause: HIV/AIDS

Do you know how the pandemic is different from an outbreak or epidemic?

When a new disease occurs in a specific geographic location is known as an outbreak and all pandemic disease begin with an outbreak. If that outbreak becomes larger but confined to a specific region, it forms an epidemic. At this point of time WHO may declare a public health emergency to raise awareness for international concern but once a disease spreads globally, with multiple epidemics across different countries, it becomes pandemic.

The UN health agency has described the outbreak of COVID-19 outbreak as an epidemic that is it has been spreading to several people and communities at the same time. Now it is declared as a pandemic that is the disease spread around the world. 

COVID-19 is declared as pandemic does not mean that it has become more deadly but it is only an acknowledgment of its global spread. 
Tedros Adhananon Ghebreyesus, the head of WHO called on the world not to fixate on the word “pandemic”, but to focus instead on five other words or phrases, beginning with “P”: Prevention, Preparedness, Public health, Political leadership, and People.
The chief of WHO also acknowledged that the COVID-19 spread is the first pandemic to be caused by a coronavirus. 

Let us tell you that WHO in January 2020 declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern. Therefore, it is necessary to take precautionary and preventive measures.

So now you may have understood the difference between an outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic.

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