Outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics: who would have thought that infec-tious diseases would dominate the headlines again once antibiotics and vaccines had been developed? The SARS epidemic in 2003 and the EHEC outbreak in 2009 showed clearly that public health services still need to keep on top of viruses and bacteria. Here we explain the most important terms and illustrate them with examples. We also explain how the FOPH is responding to these challenges.
In the language of infectious diseases, an outbreak is a sudden increase in the number of cases of a specific disease within a defined community, region or season. A single case of a communicable disease that has occurred either never before or not for a long time can also constitute an outbreak. The term outbreak is used mainly in connection with diseases transmitted in contaminated water or food. In Switzerland, various strains of Salmonella or noroviruses, for example, repeatedly cause outbreaks.
In an outbreak investigation, the source of the infection is ascertained by questioning the people affected or employing molecular pathogen typing. The source can then be sanitised or eliminated, which usually puts an end to the outbreak.
An epidemic is the occurrence of an infectious disease in a large number of people within a specific area and period of time. Influenza, Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis are epidemics that occur in Switzerland on a seasonal basis. Other epidemics, such as sexually transmitted infections, tend to occur in the urban regions of the country.
The FOPH analyses the cases, assesses the risks and produces corresponding epidemiological reports. These form the basis of vaccination recommendations, control strategies and prevention programmes.
Pandemic is the term used to describe the spread of an infectious disease in many countries or continents. Pandemics can endanger a large part of the world’s population. The most significant pandemics are influenza pandemics. Caused by influenza viruses, they can occur at any time. AIDS is often also referred to as a pandemic.
Switzerland has a pandemic plan to ensure preparedness for an influenza pandemic. A manual is available for companies and the FOPH issues hygiene recommendations for the public.
No matter if outbreak, epidemic or pandemic: when internationally relevant events occur, Switzerland will work together with other states and international organziations in order to coordinate its measures within the framework of the International Health Regulations 2005.
Last modification 04.09.2018