Pandemics: Past, present, and future

A pandemic is an outbreak of global proportions. It happens when a bacterium or novel virus becomes capable of spreading rapidly.

It causes serious illness and can spread easily from one person to the next.

The word pandemic comes from the Greek pandemos meaning “pertaining to all people.” The Greek word pan means “all” and the Greek word demos means “people.”

This article discusses the difference between epidemics and pandemics, how pandemics start, and future concerns.

Fast facts on pandemics

Here are some key points about pandemics.

Pandemics are usually caused by a novel infectious agent, an infectious agent that is newly capable of spreading rapidly, or both.

The death toll in a pandemic is generally higher than that in an epidemic.

The Spanish flu was the worst pandemic in history, killing 100 million people.

Increased travel and mobility have increased the likelihood of new diseases spreading.

Antibiotic resistance increases the risk of future pandemics.

Pandemic or epidemic?

[Global bacteria petri dish]
The death toll of a pandemic is usually much greater than that of an epidemic.

A pandemic is when a disease spreads across a wide geographical area and affects many people.

An epidemic is specific to one city, region, or country, but a pandemic spreads beyond national borders, possibly worldwide.

An endemic disease is one that is always present in a particular place or community.

An epidemic is when the number of people who experience an infection is higher than the number expected within a country or a part of a country.

If an infection becomes widespread in several countries at the same time, it can become a pandemic.

A pandemic is usually caused by a new virus strain or subtype that becomes easily transmissable between humans, or by bacteria that become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Sometimes, pandemics are caused simply by a new ability to spread rapidly, such as with the Black Death.

Humans may have little or no immunity against a new virus. Often a new virus cannot spread between people, but if it changes, or mutates, it may start to spread easily. In this case, a pandemic can result.

In the case of influenza, seasonal outbreaks — or epidemics — are generally caused by subtypes of a virus that is already circulating among people.

Pandemics, on the other hand, are generally caused by novel subtypes. These subtypes have not circulated among people before.

A pandemic affects more people and can be more deadly than an epidemic. It can also lead to more social disruption, economic loss, and general hardship.

Flu pandemic: Could it happen and what would make it happen?Flu pandemic: Could it happen and what would make it happen?
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The Spanish flu pandemic, from 1918 to 1920, claimed 100 million lives. It is considered the worst in history. The Black Death claimed the lives of over 75 million people in the 14th Century.

Some pandemics and epidemics that have occurred include:

[Plague doctor mask]
The Black Death killed 30-60% of Europe’s total population.

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