What is a pandemic?

The current active outbreak of coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 has now been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the first of its kind.

What is a pandemic?

Pandemics are a worldwide spread of a new disease. Pandemics occur when new diseases or viruses break out which infect people easily and are spread efficiently through human transmission.

The difference between an outbreak, endemic, epidemic, and pandemic

An outbreak occurs when the number of infected persons exceeds expected cases.

An endemic is a disease that is continuously found among a certain region or population. For instance, malaria is endemic in many countries where the climate is extremely warm, such as Africa.

An Epidemic is an outbreak of a disease that infects many people simultaneously and spreads through one or more communities.

A pandemic occurs when an epidemic spreads throughout the globe.

How are diseases spread?

Infection and disease are typically spread in the following ways:


Viruses can spread by people through droplet infection, such as coughing and sneezing, direct contact such as kissing, and indirect contact such as touching an infected surface (surfaces where an infected person has recently coughed or sneezed on)


Diseases can begin and spread through animals. The 1348 bubonic plague that killed 20 million people and about a 3rd of Europe, originated from fleas and rats. Mosquitoes in certain countries can spread malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and filariasis. Ticks spread Lyme disease and ducks, whales, and pigs have been known to carry the flu virus.

Non-living sources

Apart from people and animals, diseases can be spread through contaminated food and water. The bacteria salmonella can be found in eggs, meat, and poultry and some hazardous chemicals have been known to cause cancer.

What to do during a pandemic

WHO recommends these basic protective measures during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Avoid close contact with people who are well and maintain at least a 3- meter distance from coughing and sneezing people
  • Isolate yourself from others if you feel unwell and let the local health authorities know
  • Use a tissue or the crook of your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing
  • Avoid touching your face, in particular, your mouth and nose
  • Stay informed about the coronavirus pandemic and follow the advice given by your healthcare provider

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