What Is A Pandemic And Is The Coronavirus Outbreak One?

It’s hard to miss what arguably is the most talked about incident in 2020: the coronavirus (or the Wuhan virus) outbreak. At time of writing, there was a total of 28,294 confirmed cases and 565 deaths worldwide. Everyone seems to be doing their best to contain the virus, but whether it will be combated soon remains unknown. Other questions raised are: is the coronavirus now a pandemic, and what is a pandemic? We find out now.

What Is A Pandemic?

Before we get into the specifics of a pandemic, let’s first talk about epidemics. Both terms may seem similar, but there’s a notable difference between them. An epidemic refers to a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected, and one where the disease is actively spreading. Epidemics are specific to a community, city, region or country. By contrast, a pandemic is a worldwide spread of a new disease, or a global epidemic. Therefore, pandemics are epidemics on a wider geographical scale, spread over several countries or continents and usually affecting a large number of people. Also, the death toll in a pandemic is generally higher than that in an epidemic.

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What Are Some Of The Worst Pandemics In History?

Throughout history, mankind has been plagued with various illnesses, and some took a staggering amount of lives. Some diseases that come to mind may include SARS and AIDS, but pandemics have existed even before we knew to call them pandemics.

  • Antonine Plague/Plague of Galen (165-180 A.D.): Possibly smallpox or measles, claimed an estimated 5 million lives in total. At the height of its outbreak, 5,000 people a day were said to be dying in Rome, and wiped out the Roman army.
  • Plague of Justinian (541-750 A.D.): The first recorded outbreak of the bubonic plague, caused by black rats. It ran rampant through the Byzantine Empire, and took out almost 50% of Europe’s population then. The estimated number of deaths? 25 million.
  • Black Death/Black Plague (1331-1353): Bubonic plague made a comeback, this time stretching all the way from Asia to Europe. It claimed an estimated 75-200 million lives worldwide, and took out 30%-60% of Europe’s population.
  • Cholera Pandemics: In total, there were seven cholera pandemics, with the last one from 1961-1975. Cholera still has outbreaks from time to time, and WHO estimates that it claims 21,000-143,000 lives each year.
  • Spanish Flu (1918-1920): A type of H1N1 flu, the Spanish Flu claimed 50-100 million lives in total. What set it apart from other flu strains was the fact that mortality rates were surprisingly high for young adults.
  • HIV/AIDS (Ongoing): The first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 1981, and the number of infections and death toll has risen since then, making it a pandemic lasting till today. At its peak in 2005, it claimed about 2.8 million lives.
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Concerns For The Modern Pandemic

As we are increasingly mobile, the risk of diseases spreading are higher as well. Over the years, we may have also developed antibiotic resistance, which increases risk of future pandemics. Due to quick and widespread communication, panic levels also rise faster. As a result, there’s a chance that those who are unknowingly infected may travel to flee the disease, potentially taking the virus with them. Besides that, as pandemics usually arise from new diseases, it could take months or even years to develop a vaccine/cure. As such, medical facilities could be overwhelmed, and medical personnel short-staffed due to both demand and illness.

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How Can Pandemics Be Contained?

When pandemics (or epidemics or even outbreaks) occur, the first step would be to prevent the spread of disease, and to provide healthcare to those infected. The upside of technology is that preventive measures can be distributed as widespread as possible, making awareness more convenient. Medical staff will aim to discover suitable methods to treat the disease. In the case of pandemics especially, prevention is really better than cure. In other words, if it’s under control, then the term “pandemic” could be taken out.

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Is The Coronavirus A Pandemic?

Ah, yes. Back to our original query. As of 4th February 2020, the coronavirus outbreak is not yet considered a pandemic. At time of writing, it is considered to be an epidemic with multiple locations. Apparently, even though pandemics are determined mostly by geographical spread, there are finer details to look into as well, such as population immunity and disease severity. Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, says there is “very limited amount of human transmission outside of China, but not really enough yet for the WHO to declare a pandemic.” The last pandemic reported was the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, otherwise commonly known as the “swine flu”.

Edit: As of 12th March 2020, WHO has officially declared Covid-19 as a pandemic.

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So there you go with everything we know about pandemics. During this critical time, allow us to remind you to take good care of yourselves, and to practice good hygiene. Pandemic or not, the coronavirus shouldn’t be taken lightly anyway!