Epidemic/Pandemic

What’s the difference between an epidemic and pandemic?

An epidemic is the rapid spread of a disease that affects some or many people in a community or region at the same time. A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that affects large numbers of people throughout the world and spreads rapidly.

An influenza or flu pandemic happens when a new flu virus appears that easily spreads from person-to-person and around the world. Because the virus is new, the human population has little to no immunity against it. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Additionally, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.

Experts cannot predict when the next flu pandemic may occur or how severe it will be, but there are several things you can do to prepare for a flu pandemic ─ explore the information below to learn more!

Cover photo courtesy of the CDC

Banner photo courtesy of CDC/Debora Cartagena

Within text photos courtesy of Tri-County Health Department

Before

  • The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season.  About two weeks after receiving the vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection.
  • Store a two week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. 
  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
  • Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Practice good hygiene by washing your hands often, covering your cough, and keeping your distance from obviously ill individuals.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of the flu and other illnesses so that you can limit your contact with infected individuals and seek medical attention for yourself if you become infected.

During

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.  You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Washing your hands frequently will help protect you from germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

More Information:

References, Resources and More Information:

  • Ready.gov – Pandemic
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
  • Flu.gov
  • United States Department of Health and Human Services
  • Tri-County Health Department

It Happened Here

The H1N1 influenza virus was first detected in the United States in April 2009. This virus was a unique combination of influenza virus genes never previously identified in either animals or people.

Infection with this new influenza A virus (then referred to as swine flu) was first detected in a 10-year-old patient in California. Once the virus began to transmit from human to human, it was renamed H1N1 which reflects its genetic composition. The virus began spreading to other states and then internationally to Mexico and Canada. By the end of April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) determined that a pandemic was imminent and both organizations recommended that public health agencies implement their pandemic influenza plans.  Public health agencies began preparations for mass vaccination clinics.  After the clinics were implemented, there was a steady decline in the number of hospitalizations.  As of November 14, 2009, a total of 1769 influenza associated hospitalizations from 51 counties had been reported in Colorado; 45 influenza-related deaths were reported.

Fast Facts:

  • Pandemics are determined by how the disease spreads, not how many deaths it causes
  • The flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common
  • Influenza activity usually peaks in February, but disease can occur as late as May.
  • Flu viruses spread all year, even in summer.
  • In Colorado, influenza was first spotted among military recruits who had reported for duty at the University of Colorado
  • While an epidemic is a more localized spreading disease, a pandemic is global in scale.