Epidemic vs. Pandemic

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Epidemic and pandemic are words that sound similar but have slightly different meanings. We will examine the definitions of the words epidemic and pandemic, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Epidemic Meaning and Origin

An epidemic is a widespread outbreak of disease in a particular area. Most diseases that cause an epidemic are spread through the sharing of bodily fluids from person to person. Diseases spread when contagious people come into contact with people who are well; sick people often do not know they are ill because of the incubation period for the disease.

Depending on the nature of the epidemic and the rapidity with which it is infectious, reported cases may or may not be accurate. The development of immunization has greatly reduced disease outbreaks or epidemics and the death toll when they do occur. The expression epidemic may be used figuratively to mean that something is widespread.

The word epidemic is derived from the Greek word epidēmios , which means upon the people.

Pandemic Meaning and Origin

A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that has spread across many countries–sometimes the entire world. There have been many pandemics across human history, though today, there are considerably fewer because of disease prevention measures such as mosquito control, immunizations, and simple sanitation.

Many diseases like variola or smallpox, diphtheria, tuberculosis, whooping cough or pertussis, measles, polio, typhus, cholera, and bubonic plague or the Black Death that were once a scourge for people worldwide now are eradicated, rarely occur, or if they do occur, outbreaks are easily brought under control.

Some pandemics have occurred in recent times with emerging infectious diseases or new viruses that originate in animals such as birds, bats, or monkeys and spread from human to human, such as SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome, Ebola in West Africa, H1N1 influenza or swine flu, and H5N1 or avian flu.

Disease control centers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States advise health systems about how to contain outbreaks of virus disease and protect health care workers while they protect the public health.

Epidemiologists who work for the World Health Organization and other institutions track endemic or local, common infectious disease as well as novel, infectious disease that may affect global health to avoid pandemics. When no vaccine or antiviral medications exist to fight a disease, quarantine may be necessary to contain a pandemic.

The word pandemic is rarely used in a figurative sense. 

Pandemic is derived from the Greek word pandēmos, which means all people.

Examples in a Sentence

While this year’s epidemic is still shy of the devastating death toll seen in 2014/2015, officials warn the rate of cases is severe, and this season looks set to be the second-worst on record. (The Daily Mail)

The program was developed to improve the communication and response time when students are involved in traumatic situations at home due to the opioid epidemic. (The Martinsburg Journal)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

An expert has described the outbreak as “more severe” than the Swine flu pandemic in 2009, and the NHS, alongside other health organisations, have offered advice to those struck down by the illness over how best to deal with it. (The Express)