Epidemics vs. pandemics!

The news this week is full of stories about the Ebola virus and the threat of an epidemic.  Or would it be a pandemic?  And what’s the difference anyway?

As a public service to my readers, I will explain …

In the disease context, “epidemic” means a disease that spreads rapidly and widely within a community.  “Pandemic” is an epidemic over a much larger geographic area; essentially, it is an everywhere epidemic. The precise boundaries between “epidemic” and “pandemic” are not clearly defined, but ordinarily a pandemic includes a large number of people (for example, throughout Africa) or several countries.

For example, the 1918 flu outbreak—which killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide (about five percent of the human population)—was a pandemic.  The 2009 H1N1 outbreak (also known as Swine Flu), which spread to more than 70 countries, was also a pandemic.  By contrast, last winter’s flu outbreak in the Portland area, which hospitalized nearly 200 people, was a local epidemic.  Hope that helps—now stay away from the Ebola virus!

That is all for now …

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