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What are Outbreaks, Epidemics and Pandemics?

What are Outbreaks, Epidemics and Pandemics?

Last Updated: April 01, 2021

This is part 4 of the COVID-19 Misinformation Toolkit for Parents and Kids.

Outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics and their impact on human populations.

The amount of disease that is normally present in a population within a geographical area is referred to as the endemic level of disease. When disease starts to spread, outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics can occur, all of which can have significant social and economic impact on human populations.

These terms, although often easily confused, have very different meanings. The US Centre for Disease Control defines these terms as follows:

Epidemic: An increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area.

Outbreak: Carries the same definition of epidemic, but is often used for a more limited geographic area.

Pandemic: An epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.  There are many examples of pandemics in history, with the current COVID-19 pandemic being the most recent. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. 

Did you know that most outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics are caused by viruses? We’ve seen pandemics caused by viruses like influenza and HIV, but this is the first time we’ve seen a pandemic caused by a coronavirus.

Epidemics, outbreaks and pandemics can all have significant social and economic impacts on human populations. The current COVID-19 pandemic will be no exception to this - and we won’t know the extent of its social and economic impact until it is over.

Watch the video below to learn more about Outbreaks, Epidemics, and Pandemics.


Take a look at the map below. It tracks the current COVID-19 pandemic and how it is spreading. The map was created by Johns Hopkins University.