A pandemic is an outbreak of global proportions. It happens when infection due to a bacterium or virus becomes capable of spreading widely and rapidly.

The disease behind a pandemic can cause severe illness and spread easily from one person to the next.

As of March 2020, the world is currently dealing with a global outbreak of COVID-19. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source advised that this disease has the characteristics of a pandemic.

Many governments have now restricted free movement and placed populations under lockdown to limit the spread of the pandemic.

In this article, we discuss the difference between epidemics and pandemics, how pandemics start, and future concerns.

Pandemic or epidemic?

Share on PinterestDuring a pandemic, governments may restrict free movement and put populations under lockdown.

According to the WHO, a pandemic involves the worldwide spread of a new diseaseTrusted Source. While an epidemic remains limited to one city, region, or country, a pandemic spreads beyond national borders and possibly worldwide.

Authorities consider a disease to be an epidemic when the number of people with the infection is higher than the forecast number within a specific region.

If an infection becomes widespread in several countries at the same time, it may turn into a pandemic.

A new virus strain or subtype that easily transmits between humans can cause a pandemic. Bacteria that become resistantTrusted Source to antibiotic treatment may also be behind the rapid spread.

Sometimes, pandemics occur when new diseases develop the ability to spread rapidly, such as the Black Death, or bubonic plague.

Humans may have little or no immunity against a new virus. Often, a new virus cannot spread between animals and people. However, if the disease changes or mutates, it may start to spread easily, and a pandemic may result.

Seasonal influenza (flu) epidemics generally occur as a result of subtypes of a virus that is already circulating among people. Novel subtypes, on the other hand, generally cause pandemics. These subtypes will not previously have circulated among humans.

A pandemic affects a higher number of people and can be more deadly than an epidemic. It can also lead to more social disruption, economic loss, and general hardship on a wider scale.

The COVID-19 pandemic

Writing in March 2020, the current pandemic has had an unprecedented impact across the globe.

COVID-19 is a disease that develops due to infection with a type of coronavirus. The virus started causing infections in Wuhan, China, before spreading internationally.

On the recommendation of the WHO, more than one-third of the world’s population is on lockdown. Several countries — including the United States, United Kingdom, India, and China — have closed their borders, affecting global travel and industry.

People in many countries have also lost employment as a result of “nonessential” businesses closing to restrict the spread of the virus. Restaurants, gyms, religious buildings, parks, and offices have closed in many places.

A pandemic can also increase the pressure on healthcare systems by raising the demand for certain treatments.

People with severe COVID-19 symptoms use more ventilators and beds in intensive care. As a result, resources may be in short supply for others who need this equipment.

However, countries have put in place measures to counter this. For example, the U.S. government has requested that companies, including Ford and General Motors, start making respirators, ventilators, and face shields to meet increased demand.

Authorities hope that these emergency manufacturing measures and the restrictions of movement — which have a worldwide economic and social impact — will slow the spread of the disease.

Countries are collaborating on sourcing medical equipment and developing a vaccine, even though it may not be available for months or even years.

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