Outbreak: What happens when a disease starts spreading
A specific protocol is put into place in the event of a disease outbreak, although in modern times, there hasn’t really been a need to mobilise communities about what to do in a pandemic. That is, until now. Modern tech has made access to medicines and vaccines pretty simple, but now and then there is an illness that appears that no one has heard of, so there’s no vaccine for it yet. Times like these can cause panic in large communities, cities and even countries. The Coronavirus is the latest of these types of diseases, and it has shaken up the entire world.
Besides the coronavirus, known as the Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), outbreaks like SARS, Ebola and Anthrax are examples of diseases that caused global panic. Exposure to chemicals, toxins, or unknown bacteria typically causes disease outbreaks.
In the case of the Coronavirus, it’s believed that the outbreak was caused by an infection, transmitted through person-to-person contact, animal-to-person contact, or from the environment or other media. However, the cause of the outbreak isn’t always identified.
What exactly constitutes an ‘outbreak’?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a disease outbreak is the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy. The number of cases varies according to the disease-causing agent and the size and type of previous and existing exposure to the agent.
This means that an outbreak is when a strange disease or group of symptoms affects a large number of people. The outbreak can also be caused by an already recognised illness or chemical, but it suddenly presents itself in unseen ways – like new symptoms or a change in the intensity of the expected symptoms.
What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?
With the recent Coronavirus outbreak, the words ‘pandemic’ and ‘epidemic’ are bandied about left, right and centre, but people have been using them interchangeably, which isn’t necessarily correct.
The two words also cause panic, especially to the large majority of the population who associate the words with the ‘intensity of a disease’. However, the word ‘pandemic’ refers to the spread of a disease, not its potency. Pandemic is derived from the Greek pan (‘all’) and demos (‘people’). Disease experts use the word ‘pandemic’ when epidemics are growing in multiple countries and continents at the same time.
Epidemic means a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. Common flu can be an epidemic if it affects a large community at once. So, when you hear these words, there is no need to start panicking just yet.
What do I need to know about the Coronavirus Outbreak?
The virus has now spread to over 30 countries and across multiple continents. Many people have died from the virus. As of now, it has not yet spread to South Africa.
Around 95% of the cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, are in mainland China. However, spikes are occurring in other countries, including South Korea, Iran, Italy, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Japan, Live Science reports.
“For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely. Are we there yet from our assessment? Not yet.
“I have spoken consistently about the need for facts, not fear, using the world pandemic now does not fit the facts but may certainly cause fear.”
Coronavirus Outbreak History
The first report of Coronavirus occurred on 31 December 2019, in Wuhan, China. On 29 January, The World Health Organisation held its third press briefing to give an update on the spread of the virus around the world, as per the daily Situation Report.
On January 30, the WHO declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency, the highest level classification to describe a disease outbreak under the International Health Regulations, according to the Telegraph UK.
“The best way to control the virus or slow its spread is through containment measures such as quarantines and travel restrictions,” Aubree Gordon, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan told Live Science.
Most cases of COVID-19 aren’t severe and thus may not be identified, and the virus has a long incubation period. So the period of time between infection and when the symptoms start to show is quite long.
Also, any sort of action taken against the outbreak thus far is merely based on what we know about the virus, and there’s still a lot that we are yet to discover.
Gordon said that quarantine periods are around 14 days, based on early studies that suggested that this was the longest possible incubation period. However, new evidence has come to light that the incubation period might be much longer.
WHO’s pandemic preparedness plan
As previously stated, there is global protocol in place in the event of a pandemic; the WHO’s pandemic preparedness plan is one such plan.
The plan details that a response to a pandemic would need national governments to action the “full mobilisation of health systems, facilities and workers at national and subnational levels to distribute personal protective equipment and to distribute antivirals and other medical supplies in accordance with national plans”.
When it comes to the precautions taken by civilians, people should wear masks when operating in public spaces.
General hygiene also comes into play. Wash your hands before eating, and after using the loo or blowing your nose. Avoid shaking hands, and if you are sick or experiencing any symptoms, go straight to the emergency room.