Understanding Outbreaks, Epidemics & Pandemics

Posted: September 20, 2014 in 1st Aid and Medical Preparedness, All Others, SHTF Preparedness, Theories & Ideas

SARS, MARS, Ebola and the Plague are just a few of the diseases we are facing in the 21th century. Some have been around since before civilization climbed out of the dark ages, while others have just now made their presence known to us. The one thing that these diseases have in common is that they can bring an end to our world as we know it. Each of these diseases have the capability to wipe each and every man, woman and child from the face of the earth, leave only broke shells of the dwellings we once occupied as a testament that mankind existed.

Ebola Virus

Ebola Virus

For thousands of years, man has been battling the smallest of creatures for survival. Each time the germs mutate to make a more violent assault on the human race, mankind devises away to defeat the virus and sometimes wiping them from the face of the earth, as in the case of Small Pox, or so we thought. However, as a cop friend of mine tells me, “the bad guys have to be lucky all the time, the cops only have to be lucky once”’. In this case, mankind are the bad guys and the virus are the cops.

With each outbreak, epidemic and pandemic the viruses are one step closer to the final battle. Today we are seeing flesh eating bacteria from the water, drug resistance bacteria in the very hospitals that are meant to treat us and violent viral hemorrhagic fevers that can travel around the world as fast as jets can fly. However, no matter how large the outbreak of the disease is, we hear three words use by the news media outbreak, epidemic and pandemic. But what do these words mean?

What’s the difference between outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics? Over the past several weeks we all have heard these terms thrown around like cheap gas. However, as we have heard before words have meaning, and so do each of these. Let’s take a minute to looks at each of these terms so we can gain a better understanding and perhaps learn something.

Quarantine Sign  use for typical disease outbreak.

Quarantine Sign use for typical disease outbreak.

Outbreak. An outbreak is defined by the Major Medical Establishment (MME) when a contagious disease occurs at a greater rate than expected in a given community or geographical area. The term outbreak may also be applied to a single case of a contagious disease that suddenly appears in a location in a community or if the disease has been lacking from the area for a long period of time.

Outbreaks can and often bypass the control measures put in place to control the disease. This has been seen in several contagious disease occurrences around the world, but especially in Third World countries where the lack of infrastructure (running water and sewer) and medical facilities often lead to the failure to combat the disease. This will and often allows the disease to travel unhampered to other parts of the world. However, usually outbreaks burn or die out, due to the limited population, the lack of said infrastructure that allows an ease in travel and other social-economic factors as well as epidemiology of the disease.

Yellow Fever Epidemics

Yellow Fever Epidemics

Epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official definition for and epidemic is: “The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time”. So, much like the definition of an outbreak, an epidemic can be defined simply as when a contagious disease occurs at a greater rate than expected in a geographical area over a given time. Another key feature to an epidemic is the rate of transference. The contagious disease evolved with an epidemic will spread rapidly through the population and over whelm the medical services within the geographical area of developed countries.

Pandemic. A pandemic simply put is a global disease occurrence. A contagious disease over a large geographical area such as a county, continent or the world would be considered a pandemic.

1918 "Spanish flu" The most devastating flu pandemic in recent history.

1918 “Spanish flu” The most devastating flu pandemic in recent history.

A modern day pandemic that has been occurring for well over 30 years is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has a death toll as of 2013 of 36 million from 1981 to 2013. However, the highest death toll from a pandemic in human history is from the Black Death or the plague. This pandemic started in mid-14th century and cycled several waves over the world. By the time the plague burnt out an estimated third of the world population had died. The approximant death toll for the Black Death is well over 75 million people. However, with this in mind, by current estimates the HIV/AIDS pandemic death toll will surpass the Black Death death toll in the near future with an estimated death toll from HIV/AIDS in 2025 of over 90 million people worldwide.

Looking at the world events lately, we can now safely determine the level of the current Ebola situation confirmed to be occurring in West Africa. We can say that the Ebola situation is an Outbreak that has possibility elevated to a localized or regionalized epidemic. However, the situation is currently nowhere near a pandemic. But, with the uncontrolled exodus from the area of aid works and the local populace trying to escape the disease to the four corners of the earth, we now have the makings of a pandemic. If those trying to escape the disease have been effected before they departed then who knows what will happen.

However, for those who know me have often heard me say that it won’t be a nuke, EMP or catastrophic earthquake that puts an end to mankind, it will be a bug…

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