Image Credit: File

COVID-19 will be part of our life for some time to come as the world races to find a vaccine for the disease that has affected tens of millions of people across the world. Humans are engaged in an unprecedented battle for the survival of its kind amid economies crumbling all around us. Let us take a look at the key words that has emerged to the fore to define the times that represent our lives now.


An antibody is a protein your immune system makes in response to an infection.

Antibody test

This is the test to determine if you have antibodies in your blood. The presence of an antibody in your body indicates that you have been infected with the virus in the past. It is also called a serology test.

Antigen An antigen is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it. When it enters your body, your immune system recognises it as a foreign substance and tries to fight it off.

Antigen test

This is a faster diagnostic method to determine if you're currently infected. The test looks for proteins (antigens) in a sample taken from your nose or throat. These are faster than PCR tests and hence called rapid tests. However, they have a higher risk of false positives, which means they are more likely to say you have the infection when you don’t.

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People who do not show any symptoms of the disease even after contracting them. These people can still spread coronavirus while they themselves do not show any signs.

Case fatality rate (CFR)

An estimate of the risk of mortality from a contagious disease. The CFR is calculated by dividing the number of deaths caused by a disease by the number of cases of that disease in a given time period. The Case Fatality Rate of a disease varies with time and location. Other factors that can influence the CFR includes speed of diagnosis of cases, health system capacity, age and other demographic characteristics.

Close contact or Primary contact

A person who may be at risk of contracting the contagious disease because of their proximity or exposure to a known case. For COVID-19, a close contact is anyone who has been within 6 feet of a person infected with the virus for a prolonged period of time, or has had direct contact with the infected person’s secretions. Also called primary contact.

Community spread

It refers to the spread of an illness within a particular location, like a neighbourhood or town. During community spread, there's no clear source of contact or infection.

Congregate settings

Public places that can get crowded and where contact with infected people can happen. This includes places like malls, theatres, and grocery stores.

Contact tracing

The process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to the disease to prevent onward transmission. When systematically applied, contact tracing will break the chains of transmission of an infectious disease and is thus considered an essential public health tool for controlling infectious disease outbreaks.

Convalescent plasma therapy

In this treatment method, blood from someone who has antibodies to a certain disease is taken and plasma is separated and given to someone who is sick with the same disease. This technique has been used to treat many different diseases with varying degrees of success but is still considered experimental for treating COVID-19.

convalescent plasma therapy cpt
Convalescent plasma (also known as immunoglobulins) is the yellowish liquid part of the blood taken from someone who has recovered from an illness, like COVID-19.


A family of viruses that looks like a corona (crown) when viewed under a microscope and hence the name. There are many different coronaviruses and most of them cause respiratory illnesses.


The name of the illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The virus and the disease it caused were never known before. COVID-19 spread across the world from Wuhan city of Hubei, a province in China, starting from December 2019.


A tiny moist particle that is released when you cough or sneeze. You are likely to contract the coronavirus when you’re close to the carriers and if your mouth, nose, or eyes come into contact with droplets they have released.


A situation where a large number of cases of a particular disease happens in a given area or a community within a short period of time.

Flattening the curve

The process of controlling the rate of new cases of an epidemic, in this case COVID-19. The ‘curve’ refers to a graph showing the upward surge or a spike in COVID-19 cases that happen over a period of time. By using various measures, we can slow down the spread and this is called the ‘flattening’ of the curve. Flattening the curve reduces the numbers of people needing healthcare at one time. This allows hospitals to treat patients throughout the pandemic.


An inanimate object such as clothes, towels, or surgical instruments that can be the vehicle for transmission of an infectious agent. There is evidence that coronavirus spreads via fomites although, this is a less common route of transmission.

Herd immunity

When the majority of people in an area are immune to a specific infection, even the other members of the population (herd) are protected simply by being around them. For herd immunity to kick in, anywhere from 50% to 90% of the population would have to have antibodies to COVID-19.

Home isolation A common method for separating persons with COVID-19 symptoms or those with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 from other healthy individuals. Such patients with no other complications are directed to stay at home until they are recovered.


A medicine used to treat or prevent malaria. It was used to treat patients with COVID-19 based on very limited data showing it is effective against SARS-CoV-2. WHO later discontinued its use after trials showed that hydroxychloroquine produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared to standard care.

A pharmacist holds a bottle and a pill of Hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah. Image Credit: AFP


The body's innate ability to resist or fight off an infection. The immune system is a network of cells throughout the body that help you avoid getting infected and help you get better when you are infected.


The term describes someone who has an immune system that can't resist or fight off infections like most other people. This can be caused by several factors including certain illnesses, some treatments for illnesses, etc.

Incubation period

The time it takes for someone with an infection to start showing symptoms. For COVID-19, symptoms normally appear within 2-14 days after infection.

N95 respirator (mask)

Personal protective equipment used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid. Unlike a surgical or cloth mask, N95 masks are designed to prevent the wearer from breathing in tiny particles. When worn properly, they filter out at least 95% of large and small particles.

N95 mask
FDA: An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles Image Credit: Pixabay

Negative-pressure rooms

Rooms specifically designed for patients with contagious diseases that contain any circulating air in the room and prevent it from being released into any other part of the hospital.


A disease that spreads to many countries of the world in a very short period.

PCR test

PCR test stands for polymerase chain reaction test. This is a diagnostic test that determines if you are infected by analyzing a sample to see if it contains genetic material from the virus.


PPE or personal protective equipment includes masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and other coverings that healthcare workers use to prevent the spread of infection to themselves and other patients.

Dubai PPE kits
A man wearing personal protective equipment


If you’re pre-symptomatic, you have contracted the virus and may soon feel symptoms, but you don't have any at the moment. It may be possible to spread COVID-19 to others during this phase.


The practice of staying home and away from others for 14 days after you've been exposed to COVID-19 to see if you get symptoms and avoid spreading the virus if you are in fact carrying it.

R0 / reproductive rate

An epidemiologic metric used to describe the contagiousness or transmissibility of infectious agents. It is an estimate of the average number of new cases of a disease that each case generates, at a given point in time. If R0 is 1, it means an infected person will pass on the virus to one person. If it’s two, each infected person will pass it to two people. If the number is greater than 1, the number of people with the virus will rise; if it’s less than 1, the number is in decline. R0 estimates for the virus that causes COVID-19 are usually around 2 to 3.


An antiviral drug made to treat Ebola (but never approved for that purpose), remdesivir is one of the medications being studied for its potential to treat COVID-19.


A process used by healthcare workers to decide if someone actually needs a coronavirus test. It basically involves a series of basic questions about your health condition and recent history. Screening may also include other simple healthcare procedures, like taking your temperature.


Also called self-quarantine. Separating yourself when you’re sick from healthy individuals to prevent spreading disease.

Shelter in place or Reverse Quarantine

Reverse quarantine is mostly used for the protection of the elderly and the children in a COVID-19 situation. People are asked to stay where they are and not leave the place for their own protection.

Social distancing

It means ensuring that there is enough space between yourself and other people at all times. The goal is to slow down the spread of an infection. The WHO recommends keeping at least six feet between you and others around you in public. Social distancing also includes avoiding crowds and groups in public.

Swab test

A type of diagnostic test that involves taking sample from the back of your nasal and analysing it in a lab to see if it contains the virus.

Nose swab paramedic pakistan
A paramedic wearing protective gloves takes a nose-swab sample to be tested for the coronavirus disease


When a person shows signs of an illness. For COVID-19, the signs includes cough, fever or shortness of breath.


A machine that supplies oxygen to a patient with severe lung issues. People with severe cases of COVID-19 can't provide enough oxygen to their body and a ventilator is used in such situations.

Viral load

Viral load refers to the amount of virus you are exposed to. Someone who is exposed to a relatively small amount of the coronavirus might not get any symptoms, while someone who is exposed to a large amount is more likely to get severe symptoms.

Viral shedding

The release of virus from an infected person into the environment, where it can infect others. In the case of COVID-19, most viral shedding occurs through the respiratory tract via a cough or sneeze. However, the virus may also be shed though the gastrointestinal tract and show up in the stool.


This refers to a disease which was originally detected in animals, but is now infecting people also.