Confused about some of the words floating around in the midst of this health crisis? Can’t tell a coronavirus from a Miley Cyrus? This glossary of selected terms might help you understand things a little better. These definitions come from government sites and other reliable scientific sources. However, if you have any additions or clarifications to offer, please email email@example.com
Asymptomatic vs. symptomatic
This means not exhibiting symptoms as opposed to exhibiting symptoms. The symptoms of COVID-19 are typically fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing. A person can have COVID-19 and be asymptomatic, at least initially.
This has become a flashpoint of debate among researchers and health officials. Can you catch COVID-19 from someone who has no symptoms? The answer appears to be yes, and a growing body of research suggests it’s more likely than we think. For now, local health authorities accept there’s a pre-symptomatic period where symptoms are too mild to be noticed but the person is contagious.
This is a large number of positive cases stemming from a certain location or a certain period of time. The Caul’s Funeral Home cluster in St. John’s is considered the largest in Canada. About 170 people who caught COVID-19 can trace it either directly or indirectly to a single person who was at the home in mid-March.
This technically just means the spread of a disease in the community, which accounts for most cases of COVID-19. But the term is often evoked when a case of COVID-19 cannot be traced to any previously known carrier of the disease. This is problematic for health authorities because it leaves a gap in contact tracing when they don’t know where it originated.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, public health workers immediately track down all recent contacts of that person. This could be other passengers on a plane, family, co-workers and acquaintances. At first, only those in proximity while the person had symptoms were traced. In April, they also started tracing anyone who was in contact up to 48 hours before symptoms appeared.
Confirmed positive vs. presumptive positive
Until late March, provincial health authorities had to send positive test results to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to confirm the result. Pending that confirmation, cases here were considered presumptive positive. Once the local laboratory tested enough cases with no conflicting results, it no longer had to confirm them in Winnipeg. So now, all local tests are considered confirmed.
Coronavirus (from Latin “corona” meaning crown, describing the curious spikes on its surface) is a family of respiratory viruses that can cause a range of symptoms. Four strains of it are responsible for the common cold. Others can produce more serious symptoms. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was caused by a deadly form of coronavirus that spread around the world in 2003.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that originated in December 2019 (hence the name, from COronaVIrus Disease-19). Scientists consider it a new form of SARS, thus the scientific names for both viruses are SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 seems to have a lower death rate than SARS but has spread around the world much more rapidly.
These are measures taken by a government to monitor people coming into its jurisdiction, whether by foot, boat, motor vehicle or plane. At first, that just meant answering a question or two on a questionnaire. Now it means being met at the entry point by a health official and instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Epidemic vs. pandemic
The difference here is fuzzy, but basically an epidemic is the rapid and usually unexpected spread of something (in this case, a virus) in a specific region, while pandemic means it has spread around the globe. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11 after it had already spread to more than 100 countries, which some say was a little late in the game.
In common usage, when the rate of growth increases over time, this is called exponential growth. The simplest example would be growth that doubles at each time interval, represented by the numbers 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc. When plotted on a graph, this looks like a curve that arcs up more steeply over time.
Flatten the curve
When the number of positive cases of COVID-19 is plotted on a graph, the recovered cases aren’t subtracted, so the curve never goes down. But if fewer and fewer cases occur each day, the line stops going up and starts going horizontal. This is called flattening the curve.
A host cell is a cell in the body that becomes invaded by a virus and then acts as a host to produce more virus particles.
This is the period of time between when a person is infected with a disease and when symptoms first appear. On average, this is about five days for COVID-19.
The index case, sometimes nicknamed Patient Zero, is the first known person with a disease from whom all other cases stem. An example locally would be the carrier of COVID-19 who attended Caul’s Funeral Home in mid-March. A true index case would be the very first person in the world to have been identified with the disease.
Intensive care is the section of a hospital in which patients are given extra attention because of the seriousness of their condition. It usually has extra medical equipment and, more importantly, extra staff such as nurses who keep a close 24-hour watch on patients.
This is the gold standard of medical and industrial protection that is currently in great demand around the globe because of COVID-19. N95 respirators filter out 95 per cent of particles in the air when worn properly. The edges of the mask form a seal around the nose and mouth.
Physical distancing vs. social distancing
These two terms mean the same thing, Social distancing was the original term, but some felt it sounded too negative since there are many technological ways for people to socialize without physical contact. To avoid COVID-19 spread, health officials recommend staying home except for essentials and keeping a distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from anyone outside your family or household members.
Personal protective equipment
Often just called PPE, this refers to any gear worn by frontline workers to protect them and patients from disease. It can refer to masks, goggles, gloves and gowns.
Self-quarantine vs. self-isolate
This distinction is hardly ever made anymore. When you stay home for 14 days because you have flu-like symptoms, you are self-isolating. To self-quarantine means to stay home as a precaution, such as when you arrive from travel outside the province. Lately, even many health officials just say “self-isolate” for both.
This is an online questionnaire found at gov.nl.ca/covid-19. Answer all the questions honestly and the tool will advise you whether you need to stay home or get tested. It’s recommended as an alternative to the over-burdened 811 health line.
Viruses are the most abundant organisms on Earth. They are microscopic bits of genetic material coated in a protective layer of protein. They can infect plants, animals and even other tiny organisms like bacteria. They cannot reproduce without host cells, so when a cold virus, say, gets into your mouth or nose it invades vulnerable respiratory tissue and has a field day reproducing itself. Your body reacts and symptoms begin.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded on April 7, 1948, a date that is now celebrated as World Health Day each year. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency helps inform and co-ordinate international health efforts and has offices in 150 countries around the globe.