Demystifying the Swine Flu Pandemic…with Geography!
Citizens around the world are concerned about the swine flu (H1N1) virus, which has been most insidious in Mexico but is also affecting travelers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and a growing number of nations. As of May 11, 3 U.S. deaths and upwards of 4,700 cases had been confirmed, with hundreds more suspected; as shown on Google
and Rhiza Lab’s Swine Flu incidence map.
Amid all the hype, assessing the real risks posed by the global spread of the disease can be daunting. Terms like “outbreak,” “epidemic,” and “pandemic” are often used liberally and interchangeably, infecting listeners with fear and confusion. Luckily, My Wonderful World is here to the rescue! The distinctions among these terms, and their implications, are–you guessed it–geographic.
Here’s a quick primer: An outbreak occurs when the reported cases of a disease are greater than the levels predicted for a given area or period of time. That means that if one person is predicted to get the flu in your town, and two become ill, it’s an outbreak! Outbreaks are usually, but not always, limited in geographic scale. The current swine influenza was considered to have reached outbreak status in April as a result of growing numbers of cases in Mexico.
Technically, the term epidemic can be used synonymously with outbreak, but it typically refers to a larger-scale incident affecting greater numbers of people in a more expansive geographic area. Confirmed reports of swine flu in the United States and Canada signaled an epidemic.
A pandemic is an epidemic that has reached global proportions. The World Health Organization recognizes six stages or “phases” in the development of pandemic flu (these stages largely replace use of the terms outbreak and epidemic). The phases are categorized according to several factors including (1) virus presence in animals and/or humans, (2) rate of transmission, (3) geographic extent of the disease and (4) response recommendations.
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