Without doubt the biggest news story over the last month or so has been the global spread of COVID-19.
A new, though unwelcome, member of the coronavirus family, COVID-19 originated in Wuhan – a city of 11 million people in central China – and quickly spread to other towns and cities around the country.
Within weeks, the ﬁrst case of the virus outside of China was diagnosed in Thailand. Since then it has spread to other Asian countries, and around the world. With tens of thousands of people infected and hundreds of deaths, it is a global health emergency. Doctors, scientists and governments are ﬁghting to control the spread of – and cure the illness.
You have probably heard the words ‘outbreak’, ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’ used a lot to describe COVID-19. These words deﬁne diﬀerent stages in the spread of a disease.
An ‘outbreak’ occurs when there is a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.
When the outbreak spreads rapidly throughout a community or a region it is called an ‘epidemic’.
Finally, if an epidemic spreads around the globe it is called a ‘pandemic’.
By now, COVID-19 can be called a pandemic as it has spread outside China to as far away as Europe, America and Australia.
We are only three months into the COVID-19 pandemic and already hundreds of people have died of the illness. Time will tell whether it becomes as deadly as previous pandemics.
In 2009, a deadly ‘swine ﬂu’ started in Mexico and spread around the world killing an estimated 400,000 people.
In 1968, the ‘Hong Kong ﬂu’ killed around one million people worldwide, including 34,000 Americans.
An earlier ‘Asian ﬂu’ in 1957 spread globally from China, infecting and killing up to two million people.
None of these pandemics compares, however, to the ‘Spanish ﬂu’ that spread rapidly around the globe at the end of World War I. Today, researchers believe it may have killed up to a hundred million people!
Pandemics can occur when a new version of a virus appears, often originating in animals and being passed on to humans. The new virus takes our immune systems by surprise – we've had no time to build up resistance, so we can't ﬁght the disease. Humans spread the virus when we cough or sneeze, or by touch. By the time the disease is identiﬁed, it is usually too late to stop it from spreading further, especially because people travel so much between cities, regions and countries. Even before they feel sick, they could be carrying the infection.
‘Prevention is better than cure’, as the old saying goes. Washing your hands, using tissues, and wearing face masks are great ways to stop the spread of infections.
In the case of COVID-19, travel bans have been put in place within China and between China and other countries to help slow down the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, thousands of doctors and researchers across the world are examining the virus and its eﬀect on patients to see how best to treat the illness. Though it may take months, we hope they will be able to develop a vaccine that can prevent millions more people from picking up this potentially deadly virus.
It is important for people to watch, read and listen to the news, but events like the COVID-19 pandemic can be troubling and sad. Talking about upsetting news events and how they make us feel can help us understand that being worried by them is very normal.