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What is a pandemic? And how do I prepare my employees?

Understanding a global disease outbreak.

This article was last updated January 2022.

Public health emergencies can feel overwhelming and isolating, and it may be difficult to understand where your organization fits into a response. Instead of adopting the "wait and see" approach, proactive actions can make a huge difference for the comfort, security, and safety of your employees and business operations.

One of the key themes of any public health emergency or disease outbreak? Misinformation. Getting insights and updates from trusted sources is step one to managing any response. So let's start from the top.

What's the difference between an epidemic, a pandemic and an endemic?

Usually, a disease outbreak, or a sudden rise of confirmed cases in a particular location, is phase one. If the outbreak continues to grow and spreads to a larger population or a region, then it reaches epidemic status. A pandemic occurs when an epidemic spreads to a truly global scale with sustained outbreaks on different continents. When a disease is spread regularly and never fully goes away (like the flu), it's considered an endemic. However, there aren't precise guidelines to determine when a disease outbreak changes into a new classification.

In the past decade or so, we've seen:

For a disease infection to reach pandemic levels, usually the disease is new to humans (or one that hasn't been seen in humans for a long time), so immunity is low. And because of the scale, there is often a higher rate of deaths and greater economic and social disruption.

What are trustworthy international, national and local resources for outbreak information?

Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) External Site monitors disease outbreaks and pulls together resources across geopolitical borders. It funds and coordinates humanitarian responses and recommends actions External Site to control high-threat infections.

Within the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services External Site (HHS) leads the overall response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinates throughout the country and globally External Site to monitor, detect and investigate outbreaks.

In Iowa and South Dakota, the Iowa Department of Public Health External Site and the South Dakota Department of Health External Site help coordinate local responses to disease outbreaks.

Get important health plan updates regarding COVID-19.

Wellmark's top priority is to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and preserve access to health care. View important updates and get answers to questions regarding COVID-19 here Opens in a new window.

Tips for protecting workers during a pandemic

Consider these items when creating a workplace preparedness plan.

If you or an employee thinks they may have been exposed to a disease, please contact local health authorities. If it's an emergency, please seek care immediately.