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A variety of factors may be involved in the outbreak of an infectious disease pandemic. For instance, a new form of a pathogen may emerge, a form for which widespread immunity or resistance does not exist. Pathogens can also mutate in such a way that previously effective medication become less effective or altogether ineffective in the management of the new variety of the disease. This is generally a significant factor in influenza outbreaks. Other factors that directly increase the spread of a given disease, such as contamination of drinking water sources by a waterborne pathogen such as cholera, can contribute to an epidemic or pandemic outbreak.
The movement of people may also spark an epidemic as the new group encounters illnesses to which they have developed no resistance, or exposes the indigenous population to illnesses new to them. Movement of infected people to other places may spread diseases more broadly, resulting in the widespread nature of a pandemic.
Additionally, human behavior, such as unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners or the use of intravenous drugs via dirty needles, can be a significant factor in an infectious outbreak.
Pandemic outbreaks are popular in the news right now, in part due to the recent Hollywood film, 'Contagion'. I sat down with an expert from the CDC to discuss this hot topic. He briefly explained how the virus spreads. “Viruses like the influenza virus are very susceptible to rearranging,” he explains. “So if two different strains of virus infect the same person, they can mix up their genetic material and make a different virus.”
In the movie, the damage caused by fear of the epidemic almost exceeds the damage caused by the actual virus itself. “I think that getting information out to the public that is timely and accurate [is crucial],” he says. “That is a big part of what CDC tries to do.”
When a disease reaches many different areas of the world, it is considered a pandemic. In this video, Dr. Oz show guest Dr. Allison Aiello explains how pandemic outbreaks happen.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.