What does that mean? A glossary of coronavirus terms

As the rush of news about the novel coronavirus dominates the headlines, here are a few of the definitions and phrases medical experts, media and government officials are using as they attempt to curtail the spread of the virus.

Asymptomatic: Defined as a person producing or showing no symptoms of a disease.

CDC: The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cluster: It is a group of similar health events that have occurred in the same area around the same time.

Community spread: The speed of the disease within a specific area in which there is no direct knowledge of how or when someone contracted the disease.

Confirmed positive test: A case of the novel coronavirus that has been tested and confirmed by governmental public health organizations.

Contact tracing: The method by which public health officials investigate whom an infected person interacted. The process is used to determine who might be at-risk of contracting the virus after coming into contact with an infected person.

Coronavirus: A term for a large family of virus that includes SARS and other minor to major respiratory illnesses. They can be spread between animals and people. “Corona” is the Latin root world meaning crown or ring of light. It refers to the shape of the virus under a microscope.

COVID-19: Is short for coronavirus disease 2019. The number 19 refers to when the disease was first detected – in China, December 2019. The virus spreads through droplets from the mouth and nose of a person.

Emergency: Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act gives the government the power to declare a state of emergency. Federally, the government can invoke the Emergencies Act when a situation endangers the lives and health of Canadians that “exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it.”

Epidemic: A situation where a disease spreads rapidly among many people and in a higher concentration than normal. It is on a smaller scale than a pandemic.

Epidemiologist: A scientist who studies diseases within certain populations and works to understand how, why and where they spread.

Exponential: When the number of cases of infection increase steadily but rapidly. Without containment, such rapid spread results in a large number of infections – even when an area has a small number of cases initially.

Fatality rate: The share of those infected cases who die. Scientists and public health officials estimate the new coronavirus has a fatality rate of about one per cent, though rates are higher in places where large numbers of patients have overwhelmed the health-care system, such as in China and Italy. The true fatality rate isn’t really known, as asymptomatic patients don’t usually seek treatment and therefore are not counted as survivors.

Flattening the curve: The curve is the projected number of people who will contract a disease over a period of time. A flatter curve assumes the same number of people get infected, but over a larger period of time. A faster curve rise quickens the impact on the health-care system, which in turn becomes overloaded.

Herd immunity: The resistance to a particular infection that occurs in a group of people or animals when a very high percentage of individuals have been vaccinated or previously exposed to the infection.

High-risk: Someone who can get a virus more easily. It is generally determined by age and/or underlying health risks, including people whose immune systems are compromised.

Incubation: The amount of time between exposure to a virus and the first time symptoms begin to emerge. The incubation period for the coronavirus is two to 14 days, with medical officials saying five days is usually enough to start seeing symptoms.

Isolation: Is used to separate ill persons who have a communicable disease from those who are healthy.

Novel: It means “new, ” so novel coronavirus is a strain that hasn’t been detected in humans before.

Outbreak: An illness with a higher-than-normal rate of occurrence of a disease.

Pandemic: Is a worldwide spread of a disease. This is a higher order of magnitude than an epidemic.

Persons under investigation (PUI): The number of people who have been tested for the new coronavirus in a geographic area.

Quarantine: Is a restriction on the movement of people and goods that is intended to prevent the spread of the disease or pests. It is used to protect the public by preventing exposure to infected persons or to people who may be infected.

Respirator: Is a mask-like device, usually made of gauze, worn over the mouth or nose and mouth, to prevent the inhalation of noxious substances. Health professionals typically use N95 respirators, which fit more tightly around the nose and mouth than medical or surgical masks.

Self-monitoring: When a person who may have been exposed to the virus, but is displaying no symptoms, will watch themselves for 14 days trying to detect one or more symptoms.

Self-isolation: Where there is a strong indication a person has been in contact with someone who has displayed the symptoms of the virus and then avoids contact with other people to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Social distancing: The World Health Organization advises to maintain a distance of a least one metre, while public health organizations are urging a two-metre distance – with a person who is coughing or sneezing. It also includes avoiding physical contact with others in social situations, including handshakes, hugs and kisses.

Ventilator: A machine that blows oxygenated air into a person’s lungs because they are unable to breath sufficiently on their own. There have been questions among health experts if hospitals have enough respirators when there is a surge of virus cases.

Virus: An infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, predominately in bacteria, plants and animals.

WHO: The World Health Organization, which falls under the umbrella of the United Nations and is based in Geneva, Switzerland.