WHO Declares COVID-19 A Pandemic, But What Exactly Is A Pandemic?
STORY: Janelle Yong
12 March 2020
The World Health Organization has now declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. But what exactly is a pandemic, and why use the term now?
First of all, what is an outbreak? Well, an outbreak is when more cases of a disease than would be expected are recorded. From there, the outbreak can be classified as an endemic, an epidemic or a pandemic.
An endemic refers to a disease that exists permanently in a particular region or population. For example, malaria in certain parts of Africa, or chicken pox amongst young children.
An epidemic, on the other hand, is an outbreak of disease that spreads rapidly amongst a large number of people in a given population. An example of this would be the 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed nearly 800 people.
A pandemic is what happens when an epidemic spreads heavily throughout the world. Compared to an epidemic, a pandemic stretches over a larger area, infects more people and causes more deaths. Historical examples of pandemics include smallpox, tuberculosis and the black death. More recently, the 2009 swine flu pandemic killed 14,286 people worldwide.
Pandemics are more likely with brand new viruses, capable of infecting people easily and able to spread from person to person in a sustained and efficient way. As the number of COVID-19 cases has reached 118,000 in 114 countries, COVID-19 is now officially considered a pandemic.
Travellers and members of the public should adopt the following precautions at all times:
- Avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds, and consumption of raw and undercooked meats;
- Avoid crowded places and close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness;
- Observe good personal hygiene;
- Practise frequent hand washing with soap (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing);
- Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose;
- Cover your mouth with a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing, and dispose the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately; and
- Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell.