The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on Wednesday that the Coronavirus outbreak is a pandemic. Though we generally know what this means, there is still some confusion about whether it is an epidemic or a pandemic.
What really is the difference between the two? Is it the same thing? Is it interchangeable? A lot of these questions have come to notice after the WHO declaration. Here is how the two are different and why:
What Is A Pandemic?
If you go by the simple definition of the word - "(of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world"- it simply states a geographic location more than anything else. According to the WHO, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. The easiest way to explain it is to say that when a disease spreads globally, across nations and countries, it can be classified as a pandemic.
What Is An Epidemic?
It's definition states that it is "a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time." What's important to remember is the use of the word community, unlike a pandemic where a disease spreads globally, an epidemic spreads only in specific areas but is still uncontrollable.
For example, while the Coronavirus affected those only in Wuhan or China, it was an epidemic. Now that the virus has cases all over the world in high numbers, it is classified as a pandemic.
An epidemic is when the disease is actively spreading but hasn't reached outside a community just yet. Pandemic is when a disease has already spread globally and is an existing threat.
How Do You Classify A Disease?
The WHO maintains a criteria which classifies particular diseases under stages. There are six phases, ranging from essentially “nothing is going on” to there’s “human-to-human transmission” and outbreaks in the community to “there are outbreaks over the world.” Following the six phases, there’s also the “post-peak period,” where the number of cases is slowing down to the “post-pandemic period” where levels have returned to normal.
Based on each phase, the WHO takes appropriate measures and safety protocols into consideration.
With Respect To COVID-19
Nothing should change now that COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Everyone should stick to the same safety protocols they have been adhering to. Washing your hands, using tissues and napkins, getting tested if you think you have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.
Other measures like using disinfectants and sanitizers, not touching your face and making sure you don't touch common contact items should also be followed. Coronavirus as a pandemic doesn't change anything except the fact that it has now spread to the world.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that they'll continue fighting the spread of COVID-19: "Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do," he added.