Is there really an epidemic of ice, obesity, diabetes and bomb threats?
Every day when you check the news, you read of a new epidemic. An epidemic of ice, diabetes, obesity, antimicicrobial resistance or some other pressing problem. I searched the news today and came across the following new "epidemics": tooth decay, prescription pain pills, carer abuse, bomb threats and distracted driving. Journalistic misuse of the term is understandable, but even health professionals, researchers and public health experts regularly misuse the term "epidemic". The term conveys an immediacy, emergency and the need for urgent action, hence the desire of every party with a vested interest to use the term to describe their particular issue.
So what exactly is an epidemic? It is an outbreak of disease that attacks many people at about the same time and may spread through one or several communities. It is defined by rate of growth of the epidemic curve (see the red curve in my illustration, which is a typical epidemic curve), and usually has immediate impact on health systems and requires immediate surge capacity. An outbreak refers to a smaller scale event, and epidemic to a larger scale and a pandemic to the global spread of an infection meeting this definition. The transition from outbreak to epidemic is arbitrary and has no precise numeric cut off point.
The two common epidemic origins are point source and propagated. A point source outbreak is a single source of contamination affecting many people around the same time – food borne outbreaks are an example, where many people may consume a contaminated food item and become ill at around the same time. A propag Continue reading