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Covid-19 Glossary

Published on 19 March 2020 11:17 AM

There's a lot of new or unfamiliar words being used in news reports about the virus and it can be a bit confusing.

Here are some of the terms and their definitions to help you understand a little better the reporting on the virus:

  • Spanish Flu of 1918: An influenza pandemic that was extraordinarily deadly. It infected 500 million people globally, killing 50 million. The 1918 pandemic is considered the deadliest in history.

  • ARDS: ARDS stands for acute respiratory distress syndrome. The disease, a possible complication of the new coronavirus, kills 30% to 40% of the people who get it. About one in 100 people with coronavirus get ARDS.

  • Asymptomatic: A term for person who has COVID-19 but is showing no symptoms of the virus.

  • CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, headquartered in Atlanta. The CDC is a federal agency overseeing public health.

  • Clinical trial: New drugs and vaccines used to fight disease are tested on humans and/or animals in research studies called clinical trials.

  • Community spread/ transmission: Cases of disease that happen in communities without researchers knowing the person with the disease contracted it.

  • Communicable: Communicable means “capable of being easily communicated (spread) or transmitted.” COVID-19 is a communicable disease.

  • Confirmed positive case: When a person suspected of having coronavirus is tested and confirmed to have the virus by the CDC.

  • Contact tracing: When health officials follow the trail of people a person with the virus has come in contact with.

  • Containment Area: A geographic area where a cluster of cases of disease have occurred and strict social distancing or isolation measures have been ordered.

  • Coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are fairly common both in people and animals. One variation of the virus causes the cold. It is believed that the virus was transferred from an animal to a human, something coronavirus can do. It is sometimes called novel coronavirus because this strain of the virus has not been seen before (novel meaning new).  For a  bonus definition, the exact variation of the virus we are dealing with right now is called SARS-CoV-2.  Other variations of the virus such as HCoV-229E or HCoV-OC43 cause the common cold.

  • COVID-19: The name of the disease/illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

An analogy to help you understand this a little better - Coronavirus is like the herb family 'mint' (or Lamiaceae to give it the proper name).  There are lots of different types of mint - spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, sage, basil, thyme, lavender, oregano, sweet marjoram, rosemary, after dinner mints ...  SARS-CoV-2 (and the resulting Covid-19) is like eating a specific one of these plants - let's take after-dinner mints.  How strongly your breath then smells of mint (or how poorly you feel with Covid-19) will depend entirely on your biology - some people will smell strongly of mint, other people won't smell of mint at all and some people will discover they are really allergic!

And yes, I was surprised to find out that Sage, Basil, Thyme, Lavender, etc.. were part of the mint family too!

  • Epidemic: An outbreak of disease in a community during a set period of time.

  • Epidemiologist: Someone who studies diseases within certain populations.

  • Fatality rate: The number of people infected with a disease that die from that disease. The fatality rate for the coronavirus now is estimated to be about 1%. However, until more are tested, the number may not be that accurate. It is likely to be less than that.

  • Flattening the curve: Flatten the curve means slowing the spread of an epidemic disease so the healthcare system doesn’t become overwhelmed. The curve represents the number of cases over time, and flattening that curve means preventing a huge surge of new cases in a very short period of time.

  • Incubation period: The period of time between being exposed to a virus and when you first show symptoms of the disease.

  • Isolation: Keeping someone who is sick with a disease away from anyone who is not providing medical care to that person.

  • Mitigation: Focusing on making preparations to fight a disease once it is obvious that it is widespread and can no longer be contained. The term generally refers to stockpiling materials, getting medical facilities ready and implementing social distancing practices.

  • Outbreak: A sudden cluster of disease.

  • Pandemic: An epidemic that spreads worldwide.

  • Persons Under Investigation (PUI): The number of people who have been tested for the new coronavirus in a specific area.

  • Self-quarantine: A decision someone makes to refrain from contact with others during an outbreak.

  • Stay at Home order: A directive from the government to stay inside your home.

  • Shutdown order: A requirement from a government agency to close a business.

  • Social distancing: Restricting behavior and limiting in-person interactions to slow the spread of disease.  Currently, social distancing measures ask you to not go out unless you need to, to avoid public transport as much as possible and to stay 1.5 to 2 meters away from people.

  • State of emergency: A declaration by the government that allows for that government to take steps to respond to an emergency by using special powers to divert funding from one area to another and to get funding.

  • Vaccine: A substance that is given to a person that will provide immunity to a disease.

  • WHO: The World Health Organization. The agency tracks disease spread worldwide.

  • Zoonotic: A disease transmitted from animals to people.