A pandemic is an infectious disease that spreads through a large part of the population, over a wide area (for example a continent, or even through the world). A widespread disease that is constant in terms of how many people are infected is not a pandemic. An illness that is not contagious is not a pandemic, even if many people are infected (for example, many people are affected by cancer but it is not contagious and hence it is not a pandemic).
Examples of pandemics include the outbreaks of swine flu and bird flu. The World Health Organisation has identified a number of steps by which the influenza develops to become a pandemic. It typically starts with a virus that primarily affects animals. Then a few people become infected as a result of contact with the animals. The virus moves on to be spread between people, and then becomes widespread and hence of pandemic proportions.
There is currently an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in several countries in West Africa. Although the outbreak was expected to be contained quickly, there has been a recent increase in new cases.
Pandemics can develop quickly and employers need to be prepared for such an event.
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