As the COVID-19 crisis continues to tax health care systems and dominate the news, you may be hearing the terms “epidemic” and “pandemic” being used to describe the outbreak. While both words refer to the spread of an infectious disease among a population, they are not interchangeable.

What Is an Epidemic?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an epidemic is a sudden and unanticipated disease outbreak that spreads rapidly within a population. It can occur in a community, a geographical area, or a few countries at once.

The number of cases reported typically exceeds what is normally expected for that region. When there’s an unexpected rise in flu cases within a specific town, city, or state, for example, it may be referred to as an epidemic. 

Other examples of epidemics include the 2015 and 2016 Zika virus outbreak, which was widespread in U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Texas; the Ebola outbreak that burdened health care systems in South Africa from 2014 to 2016; and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that spread across Asia in 2003.

What Is a Pandemic?

Texas Health CareThe term pandemic describes an epidemic that has spread across many countries and infected a large number of people. The coronavirus outbreak was labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, after outbreaks had been reported in more than 110 countries and the number of cases worldwide had risen to 118,000.

Whereas an epidemic occurs within a limited region or population, a pandemic affects individuals and health care systems across a vast — often worldwide — geographical area. In essence, a pandemic is an epidemic that has reached a national or global level.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the 1918 influenza outbreak was the most well-known pandemic in recent history. Between 1918 and 1919, an estimated one-third of the world’s population was infected with the H1N1 virus.


When you’re feeling ill, head to Bayside Community Hospital in Anahuac, TX. Since 1950, the doctors and health care workers at this medical center have provided life-saving services such as surgical procedures, on-site lab testing, preventative care, and emergency room intake to residents throughout Chambers County. Visit their website to learn more or call (409) 267-3143 to schedule an appointment.