Coronavirus terminology explained: Your COVID-19 glossary

We explain the jargon surrounding COVID-19 to help you understand the pandemic and how the world seeks to contain it.

The news has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, with advice flying around about “social distancing”, the dangers of “COVID-19” and why it is a great idea to “flatten the curve”.


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You may be wondering what it all means, so we have broken it down for you in a list of the most commonly used terms and phrases:

Coronavirus: A family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, including SARS and MERS.

SARS-CoV-2: The name given to the “novel” coronavirus that was first detected late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

COVID-19: An acronym created by the World Health Organization (WHO) that stands for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It stands for “coronavirus disease of 2019.

Close contact: The WHO recommends being more than one metre (three feet) away from the closest person, especially if you suspect or know they are infected. Because COVID-19 primarily spread through respiratory droplets, some health experts have suggested maintaining a distance of at least two metres (six feet) from others.

Flattening the curve: Slowing a virus’s spread to lower the peak number of cases and related demands on hospitals and infrastructure.

Immunocompromised: People who have weakened or impaired immunity due to a chronic health condition, medication or malnutrition. Read more here.

Incubation: The incubation period is the time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is infected. According to the WHO, most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days.

Pandemic: An epidemic that has spread over several countries/continents, usually affecting a large number of people.

PPE: Personal Protective Equipment, it includes ut is not llimited to medically approved gowns, aprons or coveralls, gloves, respirators, face shields and masks.

Quarantine: Separating and restricting the movement of people exposed (or potentially exposed) to a contagious disease.

R-naught or R0: An epidemiologic metric used to describe how contagious an infection is. In the case of COVID-19, research is still in its early stages but indications suggest its R0 is between 2 and 2.5, which means an infected person will pass the infection on to a minimum of two other people.

Self-isolation: Isolation, as opposed to quarantine, is what someone who is confirmed to be ill with a communicable disease has to do to separate themselves from healthy people around them.

Self-quarantine: Staying home and away from other people as much as possible after exposure or potential exposure to an infection.

Social distancing: Measures that are taken to increase the physical space between people to slow the spread of the virus. Read more here.

Underlying condition: A long-term health issue, including asthma, diabetes, HIV, chronic lung disease, cancer and more. Read more here.

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