What is a Pandemic?

All pandemics start with an outbreak of a new disease in a specific geographical location. If that outbreak becomes larger, but still remains confined to a specific region, It becomes an epidemic.

At that point, the World Health Organisation may declare a Public health emergency of International concern to raise awareness about it.But once a disease spreads globally with multiple epidemics across different continents, it truly becomes a pandemic.

Pandemic is derived from the Greek word ‘pan’ all while demise indicates people. The word indicates that the disease  is spreading in multiple countries and continents at the same time.A pandemic has a larger reach, and essentially meets three criteria: it has sustained person-to-person spread; it causes illness, including death; and it affects a large number of people with a worldwide spread.

However pandemics refers to only the spread of the disease and not its potency or deadliness. The World Health Organisation defines the term and its outbreak as a new pattern that spreads easily from person to person across the globe.

Phases to the Pandemic

  • The phases to a pandemic present an outline as to when the disease is severe enough to take specific actions, This essentially depends on the path a disease takes beside other demo logical factors. Based on the influenza outbreak in 1999 the world health organisation released the very first influenza Pandemic Preparedness plan in which the outline appropriate response based on 6 clearly outline phases.
  • The aim of the plan to co-ordinate the global response by providing countries a blue print from which to draw up to their own national strategies
  • The World Health Organisation has declared this COVID-19 as Public Health emergency of international importance.
  • Phases one to three are designed to help public health officials  know it is time to develop the tools and action plans to respond to impending threat.
  • Phases four to six are when actions plans are implemented in co-ordination with World Health Organisation. 

History of Pandemics

There have been 4 declared pandemics uphill now.

All the four pandemics the world has seen so far were zoonotic diseases

  • Spanish Flu in 1918-20 ,Host animal Waterfowl
  • Asian Flu in 1957-58, Host animal was Pig
  • Hong Kong Flu in 1968-70 Host animal Pig
  • Swine Flu-2009-10 Host animal Pig

Are we prepared for a Pandemic?

  • A pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people, “says a World Health Organization (WHO) bulletin.
  • The COVID-19 has already spread of 27 countries and infected over 40,000 people. The past four pandemics were caused by the influenza (flu) virus, therefore the medical discourse has so far been only on flue pandemics.
  • For the past two years, WHO has been listing pandemic as an important health challenge. “A pandemic of a new, highly infectious, airborne virus-most likely a strain of influenza to which most people lack immunity, is inevitable. It is not a matter of “if” another pandemic will strike but “when” it will strike”, WHO said this year.
  • Earlier outbreaks-SARS in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012-were also caused by coronavirus, but were not declared pandemics. Even during the last pandemic in 209 due to swine flu, the reproduction number (RO)-infected people transferring infection to other affecting others-was 1.3-1.8; for COVID-19, it is 2.6.

Arrival of the Zoonotic

  • Zoonotic disease are caused by infections that spread from animals to humans.
  • Our research has shown that people in China hunt bats that are known to carry viruses linked to SARS and novel coronavirus. Those exposed to these host animals earlier have developed antibodies against these viruses, which means they’ve been exposed to them and can spread the disease, “says Epstein.
  • It is not a coincidence that China is the country of origin of three of last four pandemics.

Role of Climate Change

  • Though no direct has been established between COVID-19 outbreak and climate change, but studies say warming temperature and melting of ice are exposing new viruses to the ecosystem. For instance, researchers recently found 33 viruses trapped in the Tibetan glacier.
  • Out of these, 28 were completely new to science and all of them had the potential to cause an outbreak.
  • Also, as the world is urbanising at a rapid pace, natural habitats are being destroyed. This has further exposed us to a host of new viruses for which we have no immunity.
  • On any given day, more than 10,000 flights operate globally, and the explains how inter-connectivity will accelerate this spread.

Universal Flu Vaccine

  • Since the world was sure that the next pandemic would be a flu pandemic, efforts have centred around developing the universal flu vaccine-the one which will give protection against existing and future strains of flu.
  • The US-based National Institute of allergy and infectious Diseases s laeding one of the initiatives to develop a universal flu vaccine.
  • “At present, seasonal influenza vaccines protect only against the existing strains of H1N1, H3N2 and two influenza B viruses. The next generation vaccine will provide protection against more than these four viruses and hopefully against other circulating strains and also the future ones that may emerge


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