Phases of a Pandemic

Whether it's COVID-19, swine flu, or smallpox, we hear the word pandemic used in a variety of ways. What does pandemic really mean, and when is the term really warranted?

A pandemic refers to an illness that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people. It takes into account where it is located and how it is spreading. Most recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

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Verywell / Tim Liedtke

Phases of a Pandemic

The Centers Disease for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently has Pandemic Intervals Framework (PIF) in place for tracking the phases of an influenza pandemic. That framework is being applied to COVID-19.

Phase 1: Investigation Interval

A new type of virus is identified and investigated—in animals or humans anywhere in the world—that is thought to have implications for human health.

Phase 2: Recognition Interval

Increased cases, or clusters of cases, are identified, along with an increased potential for person-to-person transmission.

Phase 3: Initiation Interval

Cases of the virus are confirmed with both efficient and sustained person-to-person transmission.

Phase 4: Acceleration Interval

The new virus infects susceptible people. Public health officials may take measures such as closing schools, encouraging social distancing, and offering antivirals or vaccines—if available.

Phase 5: Deceleration Interval

There is a consistently decreasing rate of cases in the United States.

Phase 6: Preparation Interval

Even after the pandemic has subsided, public health officials continue to monitor the virus and brace for another wave of illness.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemic disease occurrence.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.