What Is a Pandemic? Definition, Explanation, and Examples


There have been over 72 million cases of COVID-19 to date. We are in the midst of a life-altering crisis; however, this is not the first time the population has lived through an experience like this one. Pandemics have plagued society for over 1000 years.

With that being, said there are still many questions about what a pandemic is and how to get through it. We are going to discuss these points and more in this illuminating article. Let’s get started!

What Is a Pandemic

A pandemic is a widespread outbreak of a disease that has spread to multiple countries and continents. The situation usually impacts large populations or groups of people.

To be classified as a pandemic, the outbreak must affect the global population. This is the primary difference between a pandemic and an epidemic. Epidemics are generally confined to local groups of people, specifically one city, region, or country.

Unlike pandemics, epidemics occur rather frequently;; however, due to their controlled nature, they are rarely reported on a global level. That is why pandemics are considered to be more serious. The more of the global population affected, the more increased risk for transmission, infections, sickness, and death.

Understanding COVID-19

So, what is COVID-19? COVID-19 is a virus, more specifically, a Coronavirus. There are many types of Coronaviruses, and COVID-19 is the newest type.

Because COVID-19 is a new type of virus, scientists and doctors were not sure what they were dealing with right away. That problem, including others, caused rapid transmission very early on in the stages of the outbreak. This is why COVID-19 became a pandemic so rapidly.

Phases of a Pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes the phases of a pandemic into six phases with two post-pandemic sections as well. The phases indicate the description of the virus and how it is being transmitted as well as the precautions and steps that should be taken.

The phases are in place to monitor the growth of the pandemic, reduce transmission and infections, and ultimately save lives. Let’s take a look at what each phase involves.

Phases One Through Three

Phases One through Three all apply the same action protocols. The actions include the following:

  • Exercising Periodical National Preparedness
  • Developing National Survalence Strategies of Animal Health Sectors
  • Communications Strategizing in the Event of an Emergency
  • Promotion of Beneficial Behaviors to Prevent Illnesses
  • Preparedness to Scale Up Health Systems

While the protocols are the same, the phases do differ. Phase One indicates that there is no known virus circulating among animals that poses a risk to humans. Phase Two indicates that a virus is present and circulation among wild or domesticated animals, and it has been known to cause an infection in humans.

When Phase Two hits, it is regarded as having potential for a pandemic. Phase Three states that the virus has caused sporadic cas3s of infections in humans; however, it has not been documented to be human to human transmitted.

Phase Four

Phase Four is a turning point on the pandemic scale. It requires that the following actions be taken:

  • Rapid Containment Activities Occur
  • Increased Survallience and Communication with WHO
  • Communication of Recommended Interventions
  • Implementing Rapid Containment Procedures
  • Activation of Contingency Plans

These procedures happen during Phase Four because human to human transmission has been reported. These procedures help to slow down the spread of the virus.

Phases Five and Six

During Phases Five and Six, the procedures and actions change again. The following measures are taken:

  • Coordination of Multisector Regions
  • Active Monitoring of the Pandemic
  • Providing Active Updates to Mitigate Risk
  • Individual, Societal, and Pharmaceutical Changes
  • Implementing Plans for Health Services

Phase Five indicates that the virus has spread to two or more countries in a region. Phase Six indicates the virus has sustained community-level outbreaks in 3 or more countries in a region.

Follow Up

Following a pandemic, there are two periods:

  • Post Peak Period
  • Post Pandemic Period

The Post Peak Period indicates that the pandemic has dropped below peak level in most countries. Post Pandemic Period shows that levels have returned to average.

Pandemics Throughout History

As we said earlier, pandemics have been causing global level distress for over 1000 years. The first recorded pandemic can be traced back to 430 B.C. Let’s take a look at some examples of pandemics and their effects on the world.

430 B.C: Athens

During the Peloponnesian War, the first recorded pandemic occurred. The virus affected countries such as Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt until eventually making its way into Athens. Symptoms included:

  • Fever
  • Thirst
  • Bloody Throat and Tongue
  • Skin Lesions
  • Death

Scientists now believe that Typhoid Fever was to blame. Roughly two-thirds of the population died as a result of the pandemic.

1346-1343 A.D: The Black Death

Thought to have originated in Asia, The Black Death caused an estimated 75-200 million deaths between 1346-1353. Symptoms included the following:

  • Boils Around Lymph Nodes
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea
  • Death

The Bubonic Plague caused the ,effects and it was likely spread by fleas and rats via merchant trading ships. It was said the virus was so contagious that even touching the clothing of an infected person could spread the virus.

1918 A.D: Influenza (Spanish Flu)

There is controversy as to where this flu originated; however, many refer to it as The Spanish Flu or the Flu of 1918. The symptoms included:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Aches and Pains
  • Pneumonia Complications
  • Death

The total death toll is said to be between 20-100 million. Because the pandemic occurred during World War One, many troops were infected and lost their lives to the virus.

Navigating a Pandemic

We are in the midst of a pandemic ourselves, and understanding how to stay safe is crucial. We can learn from the past from other pandemics; what they did wrong and what the did right. The most important step you can take is to always practice good sanitation and socialize responsibly!

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