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Unless you’ve been hiding at a foreign place without internet access, you’ve probably spent the previous couple of weeks increasingly worried about novel corona virus, which causes a disease referred to as COVID-19.
The corona virus arose in China and is now spreading across the world. You’ve also likely heard the word pandemic bandied about within the midst of this coverage, perhaps alongside comparisons to the 2009 H1N1 swine influenza or the 1918 outbreak of Spanish influenza. It’s true: COVID-19 could alright become an epidemic this year. Some experts think the disease has already reached this level of classification.
Pandemic looks like a scary label, conjuring up visions of Hollywood-style apocalyptic doom. But the word probably doesn’t mean what you think that it does, and understanding its definition can help us predict what may come next within the continuing COVID-19 saga.
What is a Pandemic?
First, we’ve to start out with another word you’ve probably been hearing within the news a lot: epidemic. A plague is an often-sharp increase within the number of cases of a disease — either a known disease or a completely unique one — compared with what would normally be expected during a particular population during a given a part of the world. If other parts of the planet also start to experience epidemics of that very same disease, things can become a Pandemic.
The word pandemic, on its own, however, doesn’t tell us anything about how serious the impacts of the disease are going to be. Pandemics are often both mild and severe, counting on the disease itself. The foremost recent pandemic, for instance, was in 2009 with the worldwide spread of the H1N1 strain of influenza. While the outbreak formally reached pandemic levels by spreading across the world, the disease had a light impact in many countries unlike Conara Virus.
Because COVID-19 is spreading quickly in three major world regions — Asia, USA and Europe — this outbreak could already technically be considered an epidemic, says veteran public health researcher Lone, a professor of population health science at Roskilde University in Denmark.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 situation a “public health emergency of international concern,” but the agency has said it doesn’t yet think it’s an epidemic.
But with new cases shooting up a day within the U.S., it’s easy to imagine this outbreak officially getting into subsequent phase before too long.
Protecting Against Pandemics
So, how does one stop a pandemic?
“You don’t,” says Simonsen. Once a disease reaches that level of transmission, there’s nothing to stop the spread.
There are ways to slow it down, however. Most countries have already got pandemic plans prepared if things get to the point, says Sorrell. These plans are alleged to help health care systems adapt to the influx of cases, also as attempt to reduce the spread of the disease by closing schools, shutting down mass gatherings and making other changes in lifestyle.
The fact that the WHO and world governments haven’t yet declared things an epidemic seems to signal that these agencies still think it’s possible to slow or halt the disease’s global spread, says Sorrell. This year the WHO reiterated that containing the disease remains its priority.
COVID-19 has already posed some unique challenges, however. For one thing, it’s a replacement disease so everything we all know about it we are learning on the go. In about 80 percent of cases so far, consistent with a recent study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms are mild and may go undetected or undiagnosed. This makes it easier for people to accidentally spread the virus undetected for days or weeks at a time.
The overall severity of this disease outbreak remains to be seen. The WHO found that, globally, the death rate from COVID-19 seems to be at about 3.4 percent. Which will sound low, but the death rate from seasonal flu is about 0.1 percent. The death rate from the scary Spanish influenza, which killed about 50 million to 100 million people in 1918, was about 2 percent.
However, the death rate from COVID-19 is probably going much less than this first reported rate, says Simonsen. At an equivalent time, some populations, like older adults and other people with underlying health conditions could be at greater risk of great illness from COVID-19. Hence, developing an accurate workplace safety management system as per the principles of ISO certification is to prevent the COVID-19 infection from interrupting the normal course of life.
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