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What Are Epidemics and Pandemics?

The difference is a matter of scale.

If you notice a yellow highlight on the page, hover over it for the definition!

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused a lot of worry around the world as more people become infected. Confusion grew when the World Health Organization (WHO) called the virus a pandemic. People began to wonder what the difference is between a pandemic and an epidemic.

What is an Epidemic?

Epidemic comes from the Greek words “epi” (upon, over) and “demos” (people). It means a disease spreading within a smaller area.

Epidemics happen all the time, but people always know about it unless it’s happening in their area. Here are some examples of epidemics:

  • The Ebola virus outbreak happened between 2014-2016 in West Africa. There were 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths.
  • SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was a virus that spread through Asia in 2003. It is part of the coronavirus family. About 8,098 people around the world caught it, with 774 deaths.

What is a Pandemic?

The term pandemic comes from the Greek words “pan” (all) and “demos” (people). A pandemic covers a larger geographical area – such as the Coronavirus that is now appearing around the world and in all 50 states in America. Here are some examples of pandemics:

  • The Spanish flu of 1918. About 500 million people became sick and 50 million people around the world died from it.
  • Influenza A started in 1968 and killed more than a million people worldwide, with 100,000 in the U.S.
  • COVID-19, the Coronavirus, is the latest pandemic.

Viruses and other diseases affect people with weakened immune systems or other health issues the most. The best protection is prevention by washing hands for 20 seconds, avoiding going into public when sick (to stop spreading it to others), and covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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