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).
The World Health Organisation has identified a number of steps by which 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.
Examples of a pandemic include the outbreaks of swine flu and bird flu. Although there have been no headline cases very recently, the possibility of a severe pandemic remains and employers need to be prepared for such an event.
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