A pandemic is the spread of a disease over a very large area. The real flu (influenza) occurs as a pandemic about every 25 to 30 years. Vaccinations, clean drinking water and physical hygiene are among the important tools for preventing pandemics.


What is a pandemic?

Medicine speaks of a pandemic when a disease spreads nationwide. As a rule, several countries and even several continents are affected. The pandemic thus has a greater spread than the epidemic, in which a disease is limited to a smaller region. Accordingly, both pandemic and epidemic do not refer to a specific clinical picture, but to the degree of spread of diseases. See gradinmath for What is Craniomandibular Dysfunction.

Any infectious disease can theoretically become a pandemic. Those infections that are highly contagious are particularly affected – for example the real flu or influenza. Every 25 to 30 years, some variant of the viral disease spreads as a pandemic, while in the remaining years it generally occurs as an epidemic.

However, medicine and popular scientific publications also use the term pandemic to describe other phenomena. In recent years, for example, there has been increasing talk of an obesity pandemic. Morbid obesity is not a contagious disease, but it is widespread enough globally to qualify as a pandemic.


The exact causes of a pandemic depend on which disease is causing the pandemic. In the case of an infectious disease that is caused by a virus, the mutation of the disease trigger is often a decisive factor in the outbreak of a pandemic. The human immune system is not adjusted to the mutated virus and cannot adequately defend itself against the intruder.

However, not every mutation has to lead to a pandemic. Another factor is unfavorable living conditions – for example after wars or major natural disasters. These situations are often associated with a lack of safe drinking water and poor general hygiene, which encourages the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, medical care is more difficult in such crisis areas.

Travel and trade routes are usually significantly involved in the spread of the pandemic. Due to global interconnectedness, a virus can easily spread from one continent to another – for example on board an airplane. However, pandemics existed long before these opportunities became available.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Depending on the underlying disease, different symptoms can occur. Influenza typically manifests itself as a fever with body aches, chills, coughing and inflammation of the airways. Patients often feel exhausted and listless. Head, chest and eye pain can also occur.

Slow pulse and low blood pressure are also possible. However, a pandemic does not have to be expressed in clear symptoms as with the real flu. AIDS caused by the HI virus is also considered a pandemic. In this case, however, it can take several years after infection before the disease manifests itself through clearer symptoms.

In the acute phase of HI infection, however, the disease manifests itself in many people a few weeks after infection in a similar way to influenza: with fever, malaise, tiredness, headache, muscle and/or joint pain, loss of appetite and weight loss, rash, hyperhidrosis (night sweats) and other symptoms.

Diagnosis & course of disease

In many cases, viral and bacterial infections can be detected with the help of suitable tests, so that doctors can assign the pandemic to a clear cause. In order to record and illustrate the extent of a pandemic, doctors still use maps on which the number of people affected is entered for different areas.

This method was developed by the Englishman John Snow, who was able to use it to identify a well as the cause of a local cholera epidemic. The course of the disease is specific to the respective infection. After the First World War, between 1918 and 1920, around 22 million people died from the so-called Spanish flu. That’s more victims than the world war itself claimed. The WHO estimates the number of people who have died as a result of HIV infection since the 1980s at 39 million.


In most cases, there are no major complications in a pandemic if the flu is treated well. Complications usually only arise when hygiene is not observed or when there is no treatment of the pandemic. Patients with this disease suffer from the usual signs and symptoms of influenza.

This primarily leads to a high fever and exhaustion. Without treatment, those affected also suffer from pneumonia, they usually feel tired and exhausted. The patient’s quality of life is significantly reduced by the pandemic. Chest or eye pain can also occur as a result of the pandemic.

There are also rashes on the skin and loss of appetite. Of course, the pandemic can only be treated if the appropriate medication is available. The complaints can thus be limited. If diagnosed or treated late, however, the life expectancy of the patient decreases significantly. Unfortunately, in many cases this leads to the death of the person concerned.

When should you go to the doctor?

A pandemic is a disease that spreads rapidly across national borders. Infectious diseases often spread very quickly, as there is an increased risk of infection. If a pandemic has already broken out in your immediate region, a visit to the doctor must not be delayed. In a personal consultation, we can discuss which measures can be taken with regard to prevention or treatment. If you do not visit the doctor, there is an acute risk of infection. This type of infectious disease causes typical symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches.

At the latest when these described symptoms occur, medical and drug treatment is mandatory. Appropriate medication can bring about a significant improvement within a very short time. However, if the sick person refrains from such treatment, the symptoms that occur will quickly worsen. The following therefore applies: If the first signs that can be associated with a pandemic can be identified, then an appropriate doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. Complications and discomfort can be ended with a visit to the doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

In the event of a pandemic, the treatment of those affected depends on the disease in question. In addition, when a pandemic is detected, many countries have contingency plans in place that have been previously established for this purpose. One possible measure is to limit travel to areas where the pandemic has already spread.

Travelers and other people who may have already been infected may also be quarantined after their return to monitor their health and detect symptoms in good time. After the incubation period, those affected can usually leave the quarantine. In the case of infectious diseases such as Ebola, people in the immediate vicinity are particularly at risk.

In order to identify possible new pandemics and epidemics as early as possible, certain diseases are notifiable. A doctor who diagnoses the infection must report the disease to the appropriate authority. Such an obligation to report (without names) exists in Germany, for example, syphilis.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of a pandemic depends to a large extent on the general state of health of those affected. In high-risk patients, life-threatening health developments can occur. They include children, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions. In those affected, the immune system is not yet mature or weakened. The pathogens can therefore spread more quickly in these people and lead to a sharp increase in symptoms. In unfavorable conditions and without the fastest possible medical care, rapid premature death can occur.

At the beginning of a pandemic, historical developments show that there has been an increased death rate over a long period of time. Several million patients often die from the new disease that has broken out. In this phase, researchers and physicians must first identify the pathogen in order to then be able to prevent it from spreading.

People who generally have a stable immune system and a healthy lifestyle normally have a more favorable prognosis when a pandemic breaks out. As soon as they undergo medical treatment, the administration of medication often stabilizes their state of health. If researchers can develop an active ingredient within a short period of time that will contain the pandemic, recovery is possible.


In addition to the early detection of pandemics, preventive measures help to protect the population. Vaccination is an effective prevention against many viral diseases, including influenza. Regarding the influenza virus, an important goal is to reduce the likelihood of dangerous mutations and to protect those who can also die from a simple influenza infection. Hygienic standards such as clean drinking water and basic personal hygiene, in addition to rapid medical care, also help to prevent pandemics.


In the event of a pandemic, no special and direct aftercare measures can usually be predicted, since the treatment of the disease depends very much on its type and severity. Therefore, the affected person should consult a doctor as soon as the first signs and symptoms of the respective disease appear, so that it cannot spread and further complications and symptoms can be prevented.

It usually cannot heal on its own, so treatment by a doctor is always necessary. As a rule, a pandemic can be prevented by various vaccinations. These can be carried out even after successful treatment so that the infection does not occur again.

During the treatment of the disease, contact with other people should be avoided as much as possible. It is also important to ensure a high standard of hygiene, whereby above all only purified drinking water should be drunk. The body itself should generally be well protected to prevent infection. Whether the disease will reduce the life expectancy of those affected cannot be generally predicted.

You can do that yourself

Since the term pandemic describes the spread of a human disease across countries and continents, important behaviors are often crucial to significantly reduce further disease transmission.

In the event of a global outbreak of a disease, in the narrower sense of an infectious disease, important protective measures must be taken by each individual. Sick people should definitely stay at home to rule out any further risk of infection, and people who are not yet infected should avoid crowds and physical contact with sick people. When dealing with sick people, you should refrain from touching your own eyes, nose and mouth in your personal interest.

In order to minimize the risk of infection, shaking hands should also be avoided or the use of other people’s utensils, such as mobile phones, should be avoided. Thorough hand washing and hand disinfection is a preventive measure. It is also advisable to wear mouth and nose protection when dealing with sick people. Thorough, regular disinfection and cleaning of door handles, sanitary facilities, cutlery, etc. is recommended. Contaminated handkerchiefs, disposable gloves or breathing masks are to be disposed of in separate garbage bags, well sealed with the household waste.

These rules of hygiene and conduct, as well as the usual household disinfection recommendations, are mere preventive measures and rules of conduct in the event of a pandemic. They are used as a precaution and to minimize damage. Pandemic planning is an important emergency plan and informs the population step by step via the media, hotlines and the Internet about what to do in an emergency.