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What’s the difference between a Pandemic and an Epidemic?

Man washing his hands

What is an Epidemic?

An epidemic is when an infectious disease quickly spreads and infects a large number of people, usually within one country or region. 

What is a Pandemic?

A pandemic is when an epidemic spreads on a far greater geographical scale (sometimes worldwide) and affects a larger amount of people over several countries/continents.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the term as;

A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.

WHO (World Health Organisation)

It is important to note that the word “pandemic” actually refers to an epidemic that has spread to multiple countries/continents, it does not suggest that the infection is more deadly or potent than it was before. Also, the illness has to be contagious e.g. cancer affects millions worldwide but as it’s not infectious it is not a pandemic. 

Is Coronavirus a pandemic?

The WHO have now declared that the Coronavirus is a pandemic. The Director-General of WHO - Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus - has announced that the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold in two weeks and that he was 'deeply concerned' by the 'alarming levels of inaction'.

We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Director-General - Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Pandemic examples:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Asain flu
  • Cholera
  • Black death
  • Smallpox
  • Swine flu
  • The Spanish flu
  • Various Flu Pandemics
  • SARS

How can I protect my workplace if there is a pandemic?

The HSE provides guidance on controlling infection if there is a pandemic. 

More information can also be found via: 

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

HASAWA Section 2

With this in mind, employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from harm from infections. The HSE recommends such things as ensuring that employees practise good personal hygiene and understand how to reduce the risk of infection to others.

If staff are not aware of the precautions that employers have in place to fight infections, it could increase the risk of them spreading it. 

This might involve ensuring all bathrooms have hot water, providing soap and anti-bacterial gel and getting employees to cover cuts/grazes, take food away from work areas, and dispose of waste correctly, as well as many other things. The HSE provides an in-depth guide about controlling the risk of infection at work.

Our Infection Prevention & Control Training 

This CPD Accredited and IIRSM Approved Infection Prevention & Control Training is split up into 5 sections; infections in the workplace, the chain of infection, best hygiene practises, common infections and the responsibilities of the employer and employees. This course can be completed in just 30 minutes. If it’s of interest to you, you can start with a free trial today!

Online Infection Prevention & Control Training

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