6 min readMay 14, 2020


The COVID-19 Dictionary: Words To Add To Your Vocabulary

With all of us doing our best to stay updated and deal with the hardships of the pandemic, few have noticed the elusive inclusion of new words into our day-to-day language. Using phrases like social-distancing, infection, and transmission among others have become the new normal.

With a variety of terminologies and names floating around, it can get a little confusing to keep track of all of these new words. Additionally, it’s important to understand the exact meaning of such words before we use them. We have brought together a list of such words which are making the rounds in our daily conversations. Let’s take a look at these and be more aware-

Antibody test

Antibody test measures the response of the immune system towards the COVID-19 infection. Antibodies are formed in the bloodstream after the virus has initiated the disease in the body.


Asymptomatic patients are those who do not show any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough or difficulty in breathing). These patients can test positive and yet not present with symptoms.

Asymptomatic carriers

Asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 are patients who may be infected but do not have any related symptoms. It may take 2–14 days for the symptoms to present from the time of exposure, and hence asymptomatic carriers can spread the disease to others during the same.


In the context of COVID-19, comorbidity refers to chronic pre-existing conditions seen in patients such as diabetes. hypertension, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, asthma, cancer, etc. Presence of comorbidities increases the chance of a severe COVID-19 infection.

Community transmission

This refers to the spread of the disease in a new community, where there may be no clear source of origin of the infection, making the tracing of the COVID-19 cases difficult.


This is the process of identifying people who came in contact with an infected person in order to track the spread of infection. By tracing the contact points and testing people who came in contact with a patient, the spread of COVID-19 can be contained.


Contagion is the rapid spread of a disease from one person to another through close contact. The novel coronavirus can be transmitted through droplets of mucus and saliva from the mouth or nose and on touching surfaces that may have such droplets deposited on them.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause transmissions of infection from animals to humans (zoonotic). The term COVID-19 is given to the novel coronavirus, never seen in humans before, which originated in Wuhan Province, China in December 2019.

Droplet infection

The novel coronavirus is transmitted via the droplets that are released by an infected person while talking or coughing. These droplets can be ingested or inhaled by a healthy person which can lead to the spreading of the infection.

Exponential growth

When the rate of spread of the infection increases with time, it is known as exponential growth. The representation usually used is the number of COVID-19 positive cases on a graph showing a steep rise that doubles or exponentially grows every day.

Flattening the curve

A graph drawn by researchers shows the spread of the disease with time. The peak of the curve can be brought down, that is flattened, by following social distancing and precautionary measures which translates to the reduction in COVID-19 positive cases and also the burden on healthcare providers.


Fomites are inanimate objects that are likely to facilitate the spread of COVID-19 infection by touching them and then touching one’s face or mouth. Common touchpoints and surfaces such as doorknobs, staircase handles and even mobile phones may have infected particles on them and need to be disinfected regularly.


Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug whose effects on COVID-19 infection are being tested. This drug works by curbing the response of an overactive immune system.

Incubation period

Incubation period refers to the time taken by the body to develop symptoms after exposure to COVID-19. The COVID-19 infection can have an incubation period of 1–14 days.

Index case

Also known as patient zero, is the first known person with the infection to whom all the identified cases can be eventually traced back. An example would be a carrier returning from abroad. Upon entering the national, they would become patient zero for that country and would initiate transmission of the disease.


Isolation or self-isolation is done for 14 days when one shows flu-like symptoms which can indicate a possible risk of having COVID-19 infection. This measure helps in curbing the spread of the virus to others.


N95 masks are masks that fit tightly on the face, and filter 95% of the air- these should be ideally reserved for frontline healthcare workers to use, while household masks can be made by civilians. It is important to note that masks are not sure-shot protection equipment unless complemented by social distancing and handwashing measures.


Pandemic refers to the spread of the infection (in this case COVID-19) across the entire world. During a pandemic, the virus spreads incredibly fast from person to person covering entire populations and countries.

PCR test

PCR or polymerase chain reaction test is now the gold standard for coronavirus testing. This test detects the presence of viral genetic material or RNA in the swabs obtained from the nose and roof of the mouth.


PPE stands for personal protective equipment that is used by frontline workers such as healthcare providers. Face masks, shields, gloves and hazmat suits are some of the most commonly used PPEs in the fight against COVID-19.


Quarantine is a precautionary measure which is imposed on someone after they are declared to have had a high risk of exposure to COVID-19, irrespective of their current health status. For example, stewardesses can be directed to quarantine if somebody they interacted with turned out to test positive for COVID-19.


It is the phenomenon of patients catching an infection again after having recovered from it primarily. Chances of re-infection in COVID-19 are rare and dependent on how the body’s immune system has responded to the virus the first time.

Respiratory hygiene

Respiratory hygiene refers to following safety measures such as wearing masks and covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing. Since COVID-19 virus travels on droplets released while coughing and sneezing, following respiratory hygiene stops the spreading of infection.


Social distancing means maintaining a physical distance of at least 2 metres from people around you, irrespective of their health status. By avoiding any unnecessary physical contact, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 infection can be contained- the best way to contribute to this would be to stay indoors.


Superspreader is a person who has a greater chance of spreading the disease as compared to a typical infected person. A superspreader such as an individual breaking social-distancing, someone who is involved in the delivery of resources, etc causes an increased chance of exposure to the COVID-19 virus to the people they come in contact with.


Vaccination is the process of introducing a weakened version of a pathogen into the body so that the immune system can produce the necessary antibodies to help prevent the associated disease in the future. Vaccines for COVID-19 are already being researched and put into human trials in order to make them available for the general public once it is deemed safe.

Ventilatory support

Ventilatory support refers to the use of a specific respiratory machine that is used to maintain breathing in COVID-19 patients with severe infections. Since COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, their ability to function in a healthy fashion deteriorates as the infection becomes more severe.

Viral shedding

It is the process by which the virus is dispersed into the environment by patients infected with COVID-19. Viral shedding can start within 48 hours of exposure even in the absence of symptoms and can continue for up to 10 days after recovery.

These terms are now in vogue and we will often come across them in conversations. If we want to manage the crisis better, then we need to be better equipped with information. Understanding the growing movement of safety and awareness is a part of this. Let’s be more aware and stay updated with the right information so that we can take better steps.




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