An epidemic is “an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time”. This refers to a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease, above what is typically expected in a particular area. It’s an illness, or other health-related event, that affects a large number of people in a community, population or region, and is occurring at a higher rate than expected.


pandemic is “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”  Pandemics often start as epidemics that have been confined to a community or region. Pandemics typically happen when a new virus spreads easily among people who—because the virus is new to them—have little or no pre-existing immunity to it.

The word ‘pandemic’ has roots in Latin and the Greek ‘pandēmos’, meaning “common, public.” Breaking it down further, “pan” means “all” and “demos” means “people.”

Example: The COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United Kingdom in late January 2020.


This shares the same definition as epidemic, with one exception—an outbreak usually refers to a more limited geographic area.  An outbreak may become an epidemic if it spreads enough, as an epidemic may likewise become a pandemic. COVID-19 started as an outbreak in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in China.

Example: An outbreak of cholera

Community spread

Community spread is “the spread of a contagious disease within a community.” In community spread, disease circulate among people in a certain area with no clear explanation of how they were infected—they did not travel to an affected area and had no close link to another confirmed case.

Example: Public health measures were put in place to control the community spread of the disease.


The Collins Dictionary declared ‘lockdown’ as the most used word of the year for 2020. Lockdown is an emergency measure in which individuals are restricted from certain areas in an attempt to control exposure or transmission of disease. In the Collins Dictionary, lockdown is as the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces

Example: the government imposed a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

Index case:

It is the first documented case of an infectious disease or genetically transmitted condition or mutation in a population, region, or family.

Index Patient

An individual affected with the first known case of an infectious disease or genetically transmitted condition or mutation in a population, region, or family.

Patient Zero

A person identified as the first to become infected with an illness or disease in an outbreak


super-spreader (also written as superspreader) is “an individual who is highly contagious and capable of transmitting a communicable disease to an unusually large number of uninfected individuals.”

Example: The spread of the Sars virus was accelerated by a super-spreader patient in one of the city’s hospitals.


It is a specific period of time in which a person or animal that has a disease, or may have one, must stay or be kept away from others in order to prevent the spread of the disease. Cambridge Dictionary announced their Word of the Year for 2020 as ‘quarantine’ as it was one of the most searched words in their dictionary.

Example: The government announced mandatory quarantines for high-risk travellers returning from countries with Ebola outbreaks.

Social Distancing

It is the practice of keeping away from other people as much as possible, or of keeping a certain distance from other people, in order to stop a disease from spreading to a lot of people. In social distancing, you put physical distance between yourself and other people. This means, you avoid groups of people (parties, lines in a store etc.) and maintain a distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible. This is a key strategy for avoiding COVID-19 infection and to flatten the curve.

Example: The cities that instigated early social distancing measures did better.

Containment Zone

Containment Zone is a geographical zone with limited access in or out in an effort to contain an outbreak. It is one of the most commonly used term during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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