The words “epidemic” and “pandemic” have been used interchangeably by many news outlets during the Corona Virus (CORVID-19) outbreak. The fact is that words matter and should be used more cautiously so that the population gets the correct updates. Since the primary difference between the two words is the geographical scale of the outbreak/illness, a confusion of perception is possible. You need accurate information since CORVID-19 is much more serious for those with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) specifies an epidemic as occurring at the level of a region or community.
- As a metaphor, an epidemic is “a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something,” according to dictionary.com.
- As opposed to an epidemic, “a pandemic is prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world,” according to dictionary.com. As such, the consequences can be devastating to both populations and intertwined economies, as we are seeing with CORVID-19.
- A pandemic is what an epidemic becomes once it reaches a far wider number of people, especially across continents or even the entire world (reference the image at the top of this article).
Related Definitions to Know
As you try to understand what local officials, the talking heads on TV, and the gaffe-master Joe Biden are telling you keep these other terms in mind.
- Outbreak: a sudden breaking out or occurrence or eruption of illnesses. With respect to an infectious disease, an outbreak is specifically a sudden rise in cases, especially when it is only or so far affecting a relatively localized area so it is more applicable to an epidemic than a pandemic.
- Epicenter: a focal point of activity. If you are told a country, city, or region is called the epicenter of a pandemic disease, that means more or an accelerating number of cases are being confirmed there than other places in the world.
- Hotspot: roughly equivalent to an epicenter but on a more localized scale such as a particular nursing home. The good news is that medical insurance companies can be more responsive in these cases.
- Bubonic plague: ravaging Europe in 1720 and 1920, the bubonic plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacterium is found in fleas and wild rodents such as rats, squirrels, chipmunks or prairie dogs. Hopefully this one is behind us with effective methods of flea control.
Politics in Pandemic Names
- The China virus: The WHO has issued guidelines for labeling diseases and called on scientists, journalists, and elected officials to follow the rules “to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies, and people.” Since the WHO is affiliated with the UN it is not surprising that their take is politically correct. That hasn’t stopped President Trump from calling it the China virus. Because that’s what it is. Let reality prevail over hurt feelings.
- The Spanish Flu: This pandemic, one of the worst ever, most certainly did not start in Spain. They got the name because of wartime censorship. Spain was not involved in WW1 and so their press reported on the flu whereas the combatant countries did not in order to boost morale.
- Hong Kong flu: A pandemic of influenza A (H3N2) in 1968-69. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year.
Do you feel sick? There is some evidence that the same way you manage cold and flu symptoms may help with the Corona Virus. While this is not a proven cure if you suspect COVID-19, it can lessen the pain. Meanwhile, see your doctor.
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About the Author:
Kelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.