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Difference between Pandemic and Epidemic

We have often heard terms like pandemic and epidemic. Well, we are going through one, i.e., COVID-19. There have been a lot of researches about its cure and vaccinations. But what is COVID-19? Is it a pandemic or an epidemic? We are often confused between both terms. Pandemic comes from the Greek word 'pan' meaning 'all' and 'demos' meaning 'crowd/ people.' Thus, a pandemic is defined as the outbreak of any infectious disease over a large continent or country.

A pandemic can be worldwide as well, in which a lot of people die. Pandemic is an endemic disease. An endemic disease is defined as the kind of disease wherein already a substantial amount of people are infected with a particular disease. Thus, we can say that COVID-19 is a pandemic. It began in China and affected all the neighboring countries like India, the United States, and several other countries.

Pandemic vs Epidemic

Pandemic is an alarming situation wherein the government has to take several steps to control it. For instance, in India, there was a lockdown for 7-9 months. People weren't allowed to even step out of their homes. So, this is what pandemic looks like. Earlier, too, some countries have seen pandemics spread across a large number of people, continents, and countries. For instance, in the year 1980, 'Spanish Flu' was spread in the United States, wherein the mortality rates were quite high. Not many steps were taken by the government, due to which a lot of people died. Other pandemic diseases include smallpox, tuberculosis, etc. In terms of TB, the cure hasn't been found yet. People suffering from this fatal disease are only given medicines and medical facilities. But no cure has been stated as of now of tuberculosis.

The most deadly pandemic that is recorded in history was the; 'Black Death.' Black Death was also known as 'The Plague' wherein around 200 million people died in the 14th century. It is interesting to note that if a disease kills a particular person or a group of people, it cannot be called a pandemic. A disease that is infectious and spreads worldwide is called a pandemic. Pandemic involves some deadly contagious disease that spreads widely from person to person and from country to country. Now, let us look at the how we can assess the pandemic.

A pandemic can be assessed in two ways, i.e., knowing the disease stages and taking note of the severity caused by the disease in humans. So, let us discuss this separately. The World Health Organization has given a classification table that describes the stages of a pandemic. The first stage is when an animal infects a human. This is one of the rare cases in which a pandemic takes place because of an animal.

The second stage happens when a virus is transmitted from one person to another directly. For instance, common cold and flu are contagious as it spreads from one person to another. The third and final stage happens when the virus spreads from people to a community. From a community, the virus is spread worldwide. Widespread disease is called a pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, there are four intervals of a pandemic, i.e., initiation, acceleration, deceleration, and preparation.

Talking in terms of severity of cases, a lot of problem arises in this. Some of the points are listed below.

  • People infected by the virus die several weeks or months later, due to which the virus and its cause are not detected. In such cases, the fatality rate goes higher.
  • The government might not know the number of people suffering from a fatal disease as there is no record of a particular pandemic in history.
  • One cannot cure a pandemic if medical services are not provided on time. Due to the negligence of hospitals and health workers, the virus spreads widely at a rapid rate.

These are some key points regarding the pandemic. The only solution for managing the pandemic is to contain the particular area or the country in which there is a widespread virus. Some of the notable pandemics in history are:

  • Plague of Athens
  • Antonine Plague
  • Plague of Cyprian
  • Plague of Justinian
  • Black Death
  • Third Plague Pandemic
  • Spanish Flu
  • Cholera Pandemic

These are some of the recorded pandemics in history. Pandemic is a serious situation wherein there is an economic crisis on a high level. Thus, a pandemic must be taken care of by the government and the locals of the country.

Now, let us discuss some points regarding the Epidemic. An epidemic is defined as a situation wherein, the spread the disease spreads among a community within a very short period. The epidemic has been derived from the Greek word 'epi' meaning 'upon' and 'demos,' meaning 'people.' Thus, an epidemic is a contagious disease spread among a large section of people. An epidemic is restricted to one particular location. But if it exceeds communities or countries, then it is termed a pandemic, as discussed in the above section.

Common cold cannot be called an epidemic, even if it is contagious. There are prescribed medicines given to the patients suffering from cold. Common cold takes a week or so to cure. So, it cannot be called an epidemic. In other cases, influenza can be considered an epidemic as the people affected by influenza are large. An epidemic can cause a lot of loss to a person's health, life, financial and economic losses. An infectious virus causes an epidemic. One of the main reasons for an epidemic is increased damage to the body due to a pathogen. A pathogen produces diseases in the human system. Several infections can cause epidemics. These infections depend on the seasons. There are about six elements that result in an epidemic. These elements are:

  1. Transmission of a virus
  2. The decrease in vigor and immunity
  3. Transmission of a germ/ virus due to reproduction
  4. Any Chronic disease
  5. Cross-species transmission
  6. Natural mortality

The points mentioned above are some of the points that result in the outbreak of an epidemic. The severity of these infections rises and falls over a while (5-10 years). It is interesting to note that there are two kinds of epidemic outbreaks, i.e., common source outbreak and propagated outbreak.

A common source outbreak is defined as a condition wherein a common agent has influenced an infected person. If the infection has affected a small group of people, it is called a point source outbreak. Medicines can cure this kind of outbreak. If the infection is continuous, then it is called as an intermittent outbreak.

The propagated outbreak is defined as a situation wherein the virus is spread from person to person. In this kind of outbreak, individual suffering from the disease transmits it through exposure. There is one more kind of epidemic outbreak, called the mixed outbreak. A mixed outbreak epidemic has characteristics of both common source outbreak and propagated outbreak.

Now, let us look at some key-points that will help us understand how an epidemic is transmitted.

  • Airborne Transmission: This kind of virus is spread through dust or nuclei.
  • Biological Transference: The virus can be biologically transmitted through reproduction, adaptation, fertilization, hybridization, transpiration, etc.
  • Direct Contact Transference: In this kind of transmission, the virus spreads through drinking contaminated water, travelling through contaminated vehicles, biting, eating, and chewing.

There are other ways, like horizontal transference, vertical transference, propagative transference, arthropod transference, contact transmission, etc. An epidemic can be spread across communities and can prove to be fatal. Thus, several steps must be taken by the government to prevent it from becoming a pandemic.

Now, what is the difference between pandemic and epidemic? The only difference between pandemic and epidemic is that the pandemic can spread across countries, while an epidemic spreads across a group or community of people. Both situations can prove to be fatal. So, the government must take some necessary to stop the pandemic from becoming widespread. Both are caused by an infectious agent that is spread across people and countries. This is the only difference between the two terms. Thus, both pandemic and epidemic are serious situations wherein, a many people can die, thereby resulting in increased fatality rates.

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