Epidemics and pandemics

Epidemics are an unexpected, often sudden, increase of a specific illness within a community or region. Pandemics are when an epidemic occurs worldwide, crossing international borders and affecting a large number of people. A number of communicable diseases can be significant health threats at the local, regional and global level and lead to epidemics or pandemics. Epidemics and pandemics can be prevented and mitigated through a range of household and community measures, such as good hygiene, social distancing and vaccination.

Paramedics from the Mexican Red Cross wear personal protective equipment as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic across the country in 2020

Emergency appeals

Do you know how to prepare for an epidemic or pandemic?

General do's and don'ts

  • Use clean and safe water sources and store water safely
  • Practise good personal hygiene, such as proper handwashing
  • Avoid contaminated food and don't keep raw meat with fresh produce
  • Use clean and proper toilets where available
  • Practise good sanitation and dispose of waste safely
  • Follow health advice from local and national authorities
  • Wear personal protective equipment if advised by health authorities
  • Follow isolation and social distancing advice
  • Report any unusual incidences of sickness in people or animals
  • Get relevant vaccines and vaccinate children

Additional do's and don'ts

Advice on how to protect yourself during an epidemic or pandemic can differ depending on how a disease is transmitted (spread):

  • Airborne diseases: transmitted through the air via small droplets that a person breathes in or that land on other people or surfaces
  • Blood or body fluid borne diseases: spread through contaminated blood or bodily fluids
  • Zoonotic diseases: diseases that spread from animals to humans
  • Vector-borne diseases: diseases spread by living organisms (such as mosquitoes and ticks), often by bites
  • Food-borne diseases: caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances

You can find more specific do's and don'ts for each of these types of disease in the below Pandemics and epidemics: Key Messages document.