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What is an Epidemic? - Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

An epidemic is a large outbreak of an infectious disease in a community, population, or region over a specified period of time. Learn how to define an epidemic and explore historical examples such as yellow fever, Ebola virus, and SARS-CoV. Updated: 11/02/2021

What Is an Epidemic?

It was very difficult to go one day during the year 2014 without hearing something about Ebola in the news or on social media. It was one of the most frequently searched and discussed topics of the year. The reason for this is because people were worried about it.

Ebola is a deadly infectious disease, and it was spreading quickly. Many people in the U.S. were very afraid of Ebola, especially once people infected with the disease were brought from other countries into the U.S. for treatment.

When a disease is widespread to the point where it affects a disproportionately large number of people in a given area or a population at the same time, it is referred to as an epidemic. An epidemic is different from a pandemic, which is a disease that spreads throughout the world. There are also diseases that are considered to be endemic, which is when it is regularly found within a certain population of people.

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  • 0:00 What Is an Epidemic?
  • 0:53 Examples of Epidemics
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Examples of Epidemics

There have been many examples of epidemics throughout history. Ebola, also known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever or Ebola Virus disease, can be caused by any of a few viruses belonging to the Filoviridae family of viruses.

Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in Africa. The virus is believed to have been in animals, such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, and gorillas. People somehow came in contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of these animals, and the disease was transferred to humans. Since then, there have been outbreaks of Ebola, but the outbreak in 2014 was the biggest and most widespread. The 2014 epidemic started in West Africa and spread from there. This epidemic claimed thousands of lives with a fatality rate ranging from 55-90% of those infected.

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