COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe in early 2020, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a pandemic on March 11. But what is a pandemic? And how is it different from an epidemic?
View the infographic below to learn more, created by Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing.
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Chapter 1: Pandemic vs. Epidemic
A pandemic starts out as an epidemic and then spreads across countries and continents, infecting people around the globe.
- An epidemic occurs:
- In a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent [Dictionary]
- When an infectious agent suddenly becomes highly transmissible in an area where it already existed
- When an outbreak spreads across a previously unaffected area
- When individuals who were previously immune to an infectious agent suddenly become ill after contracting it
- A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread across geographic regions. [Healthline]
Key Phases in the Development of a Pandemic
- A pandemic entails six phases, according to WHO:
- A virus is transmitted among animals but not humans.
- The virus is detected in animals capable of infecting
- An animal infects a human.
- Humans infect each other and introduce the possibility of a community outbreak.
- The virus spreads to humans in at least two countries in the same region.
- A third country, in a different region, experiences community-level outbreaks, indicating a pandemic. [Healthline]
- Endemic: An infectious disease that is always present in a region
- Sporadic: When an outbreak occurs in an irregular pattern
- Outbreak: A spike in the number of cases of an illness in one area beyond what health officials expect [Healthline]
- Animal-human interface: When humans and animals interact after land is developed for human use but forest animals remain present, leading to the spread of disease
- Index case: The first person infected with a pathogen — also known as “patient zero”
- Reservoir: An animal, plant, or environment in which an illness may exist for a prolonged period of time
- Spillover: The transmission of disease between species
- Vector: A living being that infects another living being
- Zoonosis: Any illness that spreads from animals (including insects) to people [Becker’s]
Chapter 2: A Brief History of Epidemics and Pandemics
For thousands of years, infectious diseases have ravaged nations and continents, impacting many areas of life.
The Impact of Epidemics and Pandemics
- Cholera epidemic (Hamburg), 1892
- News of the illness was suppressed by merchants, who feared the effect of quarantine on trade.
- Cholera claimed 10,000 lives in about six weeks.
- The outbreak was heavily documented in personal letters, diaries, and newspapers. [New Yorker]
- Spanish flu pandemic, 1918
- Influenza infected about one-third of the world population.
- Poor hygiene, increased travel during a world war, and extremely crowded living conditions led to increased virality.
- The pandemic ended in the summer of 1919. [Healthline 2]
- Swine flu pandemic, 2009
- H1N1 infected about 24% of the world population.
- The disease is treated with antivirals.
- The pandemic ended in August 2010.
- Ebola epidemic, 2014-2016
- The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood.
- Ebola spread across 10 countries during the epidemic, with 28,652 cases.
- No vaccine or treatment was available. [Healthline 2]
- Zika fever epidemic, 2015
- Zika virus spreads through mosquitoes of the Aedes genus and is sexually transmitted in humans.
- It attacks infants in the womb and causes birth defects.
- The virus flourishes in warm and humid climates. [Livescience]
- COVID-19 pandemic, 2020
- The novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China.
- It’s transmitted through respiratory droplets, feces, and other bodily secretions.
- COVID-19 is most threatening to adults over 65 with underlying health conditions. [Healthline 2]
The Positive Effect of Scientific Advancements on Infectious Illnesses
- Prior to the 20th century, scientists didn’t know what caused a disease and believed, for example, that an invisible gas rising from the ground caused cholera.
- The development of germ theory in the late 19th century showed that bacteria spread
- The development of the microscope allowed scientists to see microscopic organisms.
- The discovery of how germs are transmitted led to improved hygienic measures. [New Yorker]
Chapter 3: How Epidemics and Pandemics Impact Health Care
COVID-19 has impacted health care practitioners in different ways, depending on their area of practice and geographical location.
How Health Care Organizations Adjust During the Pandemic
- During COVID-19, nurses have been:
- Leading response efforts
- Overseeing disaster preparedness
- Managing hospital and field operations
- Performing predictive modeling
- Managing human resources [Scientific American]
- Hospitals across the country pushed to reduce unnecessary visits and increase care provided through telehealth. [Modern Healthcare]
- According to a survey conducted between April 7 and April 8, 2020, medical practices have experienced the following changes since the crisis began:
- A 60% drop in patient volume, on average
- A 55% decrease in revenue, on average
- Staff furloughs among 48% of practices
- Permanent staff layoffs among 22% of practices [Fierce Healthcare]
Four Ways COVID-19 May Change Health Care
- New strategies for elective surgeries.
- Health care organizations must learn to approach patients who delayed elective surgeries and procedures in ways that make them feel safe.
- Patients who are unwilling to undergo surgery in a hospital are turning to ambulatory surgery centers for their procedures.
- Greater development of local supply chain sources.
- COVID-19 has exposed serious flaws in hospital supply chains for vital equipment, such as respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Competing health systems have been forced to work together to obtain equipment and supplies.
- Acceleration of digital health options.
- Health care organizations did a decade’s worth of work in a few months to implement telehealth technology.
- Consumers have realized that they have many virtual and digital health care options to choose from.
- Innovations with drones and robotics.
Every crisis exposes a system’s weaknesses and strengths, forcing organizations to adapt quickly and develop innovative solutions. As a result of COVID-19, the U.S. health care system will likely experience rapid progress and growth spurred by innovations in technology and care delivery.