3.2. Epidemics and pandemics

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3 2 epidemias pandemiasMany diseases constitute serious health hazards and among these are reemerging diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and yellow fever, as well as emerging diseases like AIDS, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), “avian flu,” and H1N1 influenza.

A list of emerging and reemerging diseases, along with information on the diseases, is available from the U. S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

With the increased movement of people and products, a disease can spread rapidly across the globe. The outbreak of a severe disease in one country can affect economies and livelihoods in other parts of the world. In view of this, the countries have agreed on International Health Regulations (IHR). Their objective is to help the international community prevent and respond to those acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.

The International Health Regulations (2005) cover a broad range of public health risks that can be of international importance:

a. biological, chemical, or radionuclear hazards at their origin or source, and

b. diseases that are potentially communicable through:

  • people (for example, SARS, flu, poliomyelitis, Ebola).
  • animal products, food (including the risk of zoonosis).
  • vectors (for example, plague, yellow fever, West Nile fever).
  • the environment (for example, release of radioactive material, chemical spills, and other forms of contamination).
Areas covered by the IHR (2005)
  Public health
  Airports, international ports, and ground border crossings (quarantine included)
  Food safety
  Agriculture (including animal health)
  Radiological safety
  Safety of chemical products
  Transport (hazardous goods included)
  Meetings on, use of, and dissemination of information on public health
  Public health activities by authorities or other relevant entities at the intermediate or local level


The IHR (2005) differ very significantly from the previous (1969) version, which mainly dealt with reporting cases of three diseases (cholera, plague and yellow fever) and with the application of the maximum measures specified to respond to those diseases. Today’s situation requires coordination and joint efforts by epidemiologists and experts in disaster management.