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Difference Between Pandemic and Epidemic and Plague

A pandemic is a worldwide disease that causes many cases of illness. An epidemic is a disease that has spread over a large region. The plague is a specific bacterial illness caused by Yersinia pestis.

What is Pandemic?


A pandemic is a disease that has spread all around the world and has made several individuals ill, causing many to die.

Causes of pandemics:

Pandemics are most often caused by viruses that are very easily transmitted between people. These illnesses often infect the respiratory system; for example, influenza and coronavirus, and thus can easily be spread when people cough and sneeze. The fact that it is easy to travel from one place to another by airplane, means that it is even easier and quicker for viruses to spread from one continent to another.

Examples of pandemics:

Past pandemics included smallpox, AIDs and the 1918 influenza.  Smallpox alone is believed to have killed about 300 million people and had a high mortality of 30%. Today, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spread worldwide and infected a few million people. The mortality rate for COVID-19 does vary according to one’s age and general state of health.

What is Epidemic?


An epidemic is when a particular disease affects a large number of people in a fairly large geographical area. In time, if not controlled, an epidemic can spread globally and become a pandemic situation.

Causes of epidemics:

Epidemics can be contagious and can be due to various agents, including protozoa, viruses, and bacteria. An epidemic is more likely when the causative organism becomes more virulent or the agent of infection becomes more easily transmitted from person to person. Certain non-contagious illnesses such as diabetes are also classified as epidemics, but this is due to more people adopting a life style conducive to developing diabetes. 

Examples of epidemics:

Epidemics of the past have included such diseases as cholera, which is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera, and Yellow fever, which iscaused by a type of flavivirus. Malaria epidemics, caused by a protozoa parasite, also commonly occur in Africa. 

What is Plague? 


The plague is a particular illness caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis

Causes of plague:

Yersinia pestis is the bacterium that causes the illness, and it is often transmitted to people by fleas which have previously fed on rodents that carry the bacterium. Plague is maintained in nature and cycles between fleas and mammals. It is passed to people, most often, when they are bitten by infected fleas but can be spread person to person in some cases.

Examples of plague:

The plague does come in different forms, namely, pneumonic, septicemic, and bubonic plague. The pneumonic form is not common, and it is when the lungs are infected. Septicemic plague is quite dangerous as it is when bacteria are in the bloodstream. Bubonic plague is the common form of plague in which the lymph nodes in different parts of the body swell up to form buboes. The pneumonic form is the most contagious type because the bacteria are in the lungs so people can spread the infection when they cough.

Difference between Pandemic and Epidemic and Plague?


A pandemic is an illness that infects large numbers of people on several continents, and which causes many cases and deaths. An epidemic can be defined as an illness that affects more people than usual in a particular area that is a fairly large region. The plague is an illness caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis.

Disease agent

The agent of disease in a pandemic is nearly always a virus. The agent of disease in an epidemic can be a virus, bacterium or even a protozoan, or due to no microbe but rather, life style factors. The agent of illness of the plague is always the bacterium, Y. pestis.

Infectious and contagious

A pandemic is always due to a very infectious illness. A pandemic may or may not be due to an infectious agent, since some illnesses are due to lifestyle. How contagious the plague is depends on what form it is in, with the pneumonic form being more infectious than any other form.

Region of spread

The spread of a pandemic is always worldwide, with cases in multiple countries. The spread of an epidemic is over a fairly large region, but not across continents. The plague is usually in a local region, but can spread to larger areas and can include more than one city.


Pandemic examples include smallpox, AIDs, the 1918 influenza pandemic, and COVID-19. Epidemic examples include yellow fever, cholera, malaria, and measles. The examples of the plague include the three types, namely, pneumonic, bubonic, and septicemic.

Table comparing Pandemic and Epidemic and Plague

Summary of Pandemic Vs. Epidemic Vs. Plague

  • Pandemics are large-scale, intercontinental illnesses that are usually caused by respiratory viruses.
  • Epidemics occur over large regions but not entire continents; however, an epidemic can worsen and spread to become a pandemic.
  • The plague is a specific disease that is caused by a bacterium carried by fleas and rodents.

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References :

[0]Bedford, Juliet, et al. "COVID-19: towards controlling of a pandemic." The Lancet 395.10229 (2020): 1015-1018.

[1]Keeling, Matt J., and Chris A. Gilligan. "Metapopulation dynamics of bubonic plague." Nature 407.6806 (2000): 903-906.

[2]Mills, Christina E., James M. Robins, and Marc Lipsitch. "Transmissibility of 1918 pandemic influenza." Nature 432.7019 (2004): 904-906.

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Difference_between_outbreak,_endemic,_epidemic_and_pandemic-en.png

[4]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nicolas_Poussin_-_The_Plague_at_Ashdod_-_WGA18274.jpg

[5]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coronavirus_pandemic.png

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