What Is the Difference Between an Epidemic and a Pandemic?

Reviewed on 6/2/2021

epidemic vs. pandemic
A pandemic is more widespread and affects more people than an epidemic

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that:

  • Epidemic is a sudden outbreak of a disease in a certain geographical area. 
  • Pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that has spread across several countries or continents. It is basically an epidemic that has spread internationally and covers a wider geographic area. 

That is why COVID-19 is classified as a pandemic.

How does an epidemic occur?

An epidemic can occur when:

  • Infectious organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) suddenly become more prevalent in a particular area where it already existed.
  • There is an outbreak of a disease in an area where it previously did not exist.
  • People who weren’t previously susceptible to an infectious agent suddenly start getting sick from it.

What are examples of an epidemic?

Examples of an epidemic include:

What are 6 phases of pandemic?

All pandemics begin as a localized disease outbreak or an epidemic that then begins spreading rapidly and eventually affects most of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes six phases of the development of a pandemic:

  1. A pathogen (disease-causing organism) begins to circulate among animals that may or may not be known to spread the disease to humans.
  2. The pathogen is detected in animals.
  3. The disease begins to develop as there is animal-to-human contact.
  4. Human-to-human contact leads to the risk of a community outbreak.
  5. Human-to-human spread of the pathogen occurs in at least two countries in the same region.
  6. Community-level outbreaks occur in a third country in a different region. This phase indicates that a pandemic is occurring.

What are examples of pandemic?

Examples of a pandemic include:

Is COVID-19 a pandemic?

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2), resulting in a global pandemic. 

Cases were first discovered in the city of Wuhan, China, during early December 2019. The virus then spread globally and emerged as the cause of acute respiratory disease because of its highly transmissible and pathogenic nature. The coronavirus is more contagious (spreads more easily) and leads to a more serious illness than the flu. 

Coronaviruses belong to a large family of related RNA viruses that are responsible for causing illness ranging from the common cold to severe disease such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and SARS-COV. 

Cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in certain parts of the world. It is therefore important to continue taking precautions such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing hands regularly and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to reduce the risk of spreading infection, as well as getting the COVID-19 vaccine when possible.

What are signs and symptoms of COVID-19?

Coronavirus is transmitted from an infected person to a healthy person through close contact with droplets from a cough, sneeze or stool aerosols. When the virus enters the body, it recognizes it as a foreign pathogen and starts to try to fight it by increasing the body’s temperature. This is when a person may begin to show symptoms such as cough, fever and severe throat pain. At this stage, the infection is highly contagious and can be actively transferred to other people.

It takes an average of 14 days for the symptoms to become apparent. However, it could take more or less time depending on an individuals’ capacity to endure the virus. Some people may not have any symptoms.

Depending on the extent of the infection, symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe and include:

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