Pandemic vs. Epidemic

Although the word “epidemic” is frequently used today in casual conversation to describe anything to the point of excess in which it becomes negative, such as our all too common cell phone addictions, too much plastic surgery and the very serious issue of opioid abuse. In truth, the origin of the word “epidemic” is medical. It can be traced all the way back to 430 BC when it was used by Hippocrates, “The Father of Medicine”. Until the 19th century, the words “epidemic” and “pandemic” were used interchangeably in the medical dictionary. 

So what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? According to the writings of ancient Greece, an epidemic “stays in one place among the people.” The word “pandemic” is derived from Latin and is defined as “pertaining to all people.” Hence, the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic does not lie in its severity, but rather the degree to which it is spread.

The exact moment at which an epidemic becomes a pandemic is arguable. In fact, just recently, several scientists as well as organizations recommended calling the coronavirus a pandemic weeks before the World Health Organization did so. 

One thing that remains consistent, however, is the fact that the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is a matter of scale. While, to this day, there is no clear delineation between an epidemic and pandemic, there are notable differences. An infectious disease is referred to as an epidemic when it rapidly spreads among many individuals at once. Once that spread escalates to a larger geographical area with a significant amount of the population continuing to be affected, it is considered to have transformed into a pandemic.

To provide more clarity on this subject, let’s start from the beginning. A disease is considered “sporadic” if it breaks out in an irregular pattern. If the sporadic spread of a disease occurs often enough in the same region, it can be considered an epidemic. Once the number of cases spike in the same area, it is considered an outbreak. Even though the terms outbreak and epidemic are sometimes interchanged, it is more commonly accepted that epidemics are typically considered to be more widespread.

For further clarification, there are some more specifics about epidemics we can consider, including the fact that epidemics can occur when an existing infectious disease, such as a virus, suddenly becomes more prevalent; when there is an outbreak of an infectious disease not previously known; or when people who weren’t previously susceptible to an infectious agent suddenly become susceptible to it. 

Now let’s address some specific epidemic and pandemic examples. Polio, smallpox, measles, yellow fever and typhoid fever were considered some of the worst epidemics in history. HIV is a modern example. While no illnesses in recent history have affected our world like the COVID-19 pandemic, others, which have taken place over the last century alone, include the Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009 and 2010, which caused close to 500 deaths and is still in circulation. SARS spread across four continents in 2003. The Asian Flu (H2H2) was responsible for 116,000 deaths in 1957 and 1958 in the United States and 1.1 million worldwide. In 1968, a virus (H3N2) with two genes from the Avian Flu strains killed close to 100,000 Americans and 1 million people worldwide. The Avian Flu is still in circulation. In 1918, almost one-third of the population of our planet contracted the Spanish Flu, killing 50 million globally, including 675,000 in just the United States.

As more discoveries are made, the medical community continues to fine-tune its definitions and approaches. For instance, in 2010, the World Health Organization stated that a pandemic consisted of six phases. The first is when an infectious disease circulates among animals and remains unknown to humans. The second is when a disease that was originally only known to animals begins its spread to humans. After the animal-to-human phase, the third phase is human development of the disease. Phase number four is human-to-human spread. Phase five is when human-to-human spread of the disease occurs in at least two countries within the same region. The sixth phase, considered by the World Health Organization to be the precipice of a pandemic, is community outbreaks in a third country within another region. In February 2020, the World Health Organization announced its discontinuation of this six-phase pandemic development classification. In March 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

In summary, let’s leave you with one last definition. Epidemiologists are medical professionals who study the incidence, control and prevention of diseases; and some of the best in their field can be found at the Velocity Clinical Research clinical trial facility in Edgewater Florida. Clinical trials are essential for determining the best prevention and treatment practices for epidemics and pandemics. They also serve as an exceptional tool for keeping epidemics and pandemics at bay. 

Clinical research is also vital throughout the course of an epidemic or pandemic when life and death questions are pressing and research is the fastest route to the necessary answers. Clinical studies provide crucial, newfound knowledge which can aid in more immediate control of epidemics and pandemics. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, stellar clinical research facilities, such as Velocity Clinical Research, adapted quickly and persevered to address many concerns and provide valuable research results; and those same dedicated medical professionals at Velocity Clinical Research consistently strive to uncover new and exciting information to protect us in the future. 

If you would like more information about Velocity Clinical Research, feel free to call 386-428-7730 Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to learn more.