What is a Human Disease Epidemic?
The human population is exponentially growing, and worldwide there appears to be an increase in the reported cases of infectious diseases. Infectious agents vary greatly in size, type as does the method of their transmission. You may have heard of one or two of the many viruses, bacteria, protozoa and multicellular parasites that can cause illness in humans which are almost always transmitted in one of two following forms:
Human to Human – e.g. TB, HIV/AIDS and measles (Also known as Anthroponoses)
Animal to Human – e.g. Rabies (Also known as Zoonoses)
And Indirect Transmission:
Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever (Also known as vector-borne Anthroponoses)
Bubonic plague and Lyme disease (Also known as vector-borne Zoonoses)
Seasonal viruses (such as influenza) circulate and cause disease in humans every year. In temperate climates, disease tends to occur seasonally in the winter months, spreading from person-to-person through sneezing, coughing, or touching contaminated surfaces. Seasonal influenza viruses can cause mild to severe illness and even death, particularly in some high-risk individuals. People at increased risk for severe disease include pregnant women, the very young and very old, immune-compromised people, and people with chronic underlying medical conditions.
A pandemic occurs when a virus which was not previously circulating among humans and to which most people don't have immunity emerges and transmits from one person to another. These viruses may emerge, circulate and cause large outbreaks outside of the normal influenza season. As the majority of the population has no immunity to these viruses, the proportion of persons in a population getting infected may be quite large.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General is responsible for declaring changes to the global pandemic warnings, following advice from an international expert advisory group.
Why is a Human Disease epidemic an Emergency?
An infectious disease emergency is defined as the occurrence of more cases of an infectious or transmissible disease than would be expected in the State’s population or a sub-group of the State’s population during a given time period, and the management of which requires resources that exceed the capacity of existing health services.
Infectious diseases cause not only suffering and death in both humans and animals, but also have severe economic and social implications, which are not always immediately appreciated.
Outbreaks of an epidemic such as foot-and-mouth disease can lead to the culling of millions of animals, and cost the nation billions in clean up and lost earnings. Outbreaks of this magnitude would also impact areas such as tourism and create economic losses for international exports.
Historically, infectious diseases have had civilisation-altering consequences. For example during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918–1920, between 50 and 100 million people worldwide were killed by illnesses related to the infection.
Because of the nature of pandemic illness and in spite of the increased attention and the improving knowledge we have on diseases, it is extremely difficult to formulate policies which will reduce the consequences of a large scale outbreak. Improved living conditions and increased access to medications mean the proportion of human deaths caused by infectious diseases has trended downwards over the last centuries, making the occurrence of degenerative and lifestyle diseases more common. However, history has previously witnessed spikes in morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases and this reduction may not be lasting. The next Pandemic could happen at any time.
Roles and responsibilities
The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, developed by the Council of Australian Governments, provides high-level guidance on disaster management to agencies with a role in emergency management. Foremost in the Strategy is the principle of all of society taking responsibility for preventing disasters.
In the context of Human Disease Emergencies:
People should be aware of their own risks and should follow advice from emergency services when responding to warnings. To increase community resilience, individuals should actively plan and prepare for protecting their own life. Resilience is also increased by knowing and being involved in local community disaster or emergency management arrangements, and a volunteer role.
Take these steps to help prevent a health epidemic in your community:
The immediate benefit of vaccination is individual immunity and a long-term (sometimes a lifelong) protection against a disease. Vaccines recommended in early childhood immunisation schedules protect children from a range of illnesses that can cause disability or death if contracted.
Vaccines can be just as important for adults too, providing immunity to illness in those considered vulnerable to seasonal viruses. Older adults, people with disabilities, and anyone with a pre-existing chronic illness are all recommended to have seasonal vaccinations.
Residents travelling to a foreign country should always review the current health situation in the countries they are visiting a few months before travel to ensure they have time to get vaccinations if needed.
More information on immunisation and Councils immunisation schedule can be found on our Immunisation Webpage or by contacting your local doctor’s surgery.
Practice Healthy Habits
Practice Good Hygiene
Some tips to minimise your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health:
- Bathe regularly with soap. Wash your body and your hair often
- Trim your nails
- Brush and floss your teeth
- Wash your hands
- Sleep well
For most people, good hygiene is so much a part of their daily routine. If you are concerned for those you care about, help them be healthy and safe by practicing good personal hygiene.
For more information on good hygiene habits and food preparation within the local area please visit our Food Hygiene and Safety webpage.
Practice good food safety
Food poisoning occurs through the consumption of disease-causing germs, or their toxins, present in:
- Raw or under-cooked food of any type
- Food contaminated with faecal matter or infected by food handlers
- Untreated contaminated water
Proper food preparation and storage will help prevent food-related illnesses. For more information visit the SA Health Food Safety Webpage
Handling and preparing food
When you handle and prepare food:
- Wash your hands before, and in-between handling raw food and ready-to-eat food
- Wash raw fruit and vegetables well
- Thoroughly cook all food of animal origin, including eggs
- Wash boards and knives in warm soapy water between handling cooked and raw food
- Defrost food by placing it on the lower shelves of the fridge or use a microwave.
If you store food:
- Keep food covered
- Allow cooked food to cool slightly before putting it in the fridge
- Store raw meat, poultry and seafood below cooked or ready-to-eat food
- Keep your fridge clean.
- Your fridge temperature should be below 5°C
- Keep hot food hot (above 60°C) and cold food cold (at or below 5°C)
- Reheat food until the internal temperature of the food is piping hot
- Before eating microwaved food, make sure it reaches an even temperature
Cover Your Mouth and Nose