10 Common Coronavirus Terms and Their Definitions

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Technical terms related to the coronavirus can be overwhelming, confusing. Here are some of the general coronavirus terms defined concerning COVID-19.


In This Article:

  1. Airborne & Aerosol
  2. Community Spread
  3. Coronavirus Vs. Covid-19
  4. Flattening The Curve
  5. Herd Immunity
  6. Incubation Period
  7. R0 (R-zero)
  8. Self-Isolation Vs. Self-Quarantine
  9. Social Distancing
  10. Zoonotic

Coronavirus Terms| The Words You Need To Understand The News

Airborne & Aerosol

If virus particles can remain suspended in the air for a prolonged time, scientists say it is airborne. In other words, after an infected person leaves a room, someone else can enter that room and catch the virus. Airborne viruses, such as smallpox and measles, are very contagious.

Aerosols specifically refer to tiny particles (under 5 micrometers) carrying a virus. These particles get emitted in a fine mist when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes, and then can get easily inhaled by other people.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the virus can stay suspended in aerosols for up to 30 minutes.

The virus does not stay in the air in high enough concentrations to signify a danger to most people, but medical procedures may create more aerosols. As a result, the WHO is contemplating including “airborne precautions” for medical professionals.

Community Spread

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Community spread happens when the source of the infection is not known. For example, a man who contracted the coronavirus in Washington DC did not have any known contact with an infected individual.

Community spread is a sign of the outbreak intensifying.

Coronavirus Vs. COVID-19

Coronavirus refers to a family or group of viruses. Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the common cold.

The name originates from the form of the virus. Under a microscope, coronaviruses appear spiky and have a crown-like shape. 

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is an infectious illness caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus.

Flattening The Curve

Ordinarily used by epidemiologists, the phrase flattening the curve has gone mainstream. It refers to taking preventative measures to slow the spread of infections. 

The curve is the number of infections over a specific period.

The aim of flattening the curve is not to prevent infection, but rather delay as many cases as possible. 

If too many people become infected within a short timeframe, there will not be enough resources to treat everyone. It is better to have an outbreak for a longer duration, with evenly distributed cases, because it prevents the healthcare system from being flooded with new patients. 

Slowing the spread of new infections puts less pressure on medical resources and ultimately leads to fewer deaths.

Herd Immunity

Herd immunity describes a situation where enough people in a population is sufficiently immune to a disease to prevent those who are not immune from getting the disease. Once a high percentage of people are vaccinated, or exposed to a virus, they develop herd immunity. 

Despite many people claiming herd immunity is a solution to the coronavirus pandemic, this is not true. For a country to have herd immunity, about 70% of the population must be immune. 

Without a vaccine, this suggests that 70% of the population must get infected with the coronavirus. While this may happen eventually, developing herd immunity through infection is dangerous.

Incubation Period

The incubation period of any disease is the period between contracting the infections and showing symptoms. Despite not having noticeable symptoms, many diseases are contagious during the incubation period.

Health officials estimate the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is between two and 15 days, but on average, only five days.

R0 (R-Zero)

The basic reproductive rate or R0 of a virus is the number of people that one person can infect with a disease. If R0 is greater than 1, an infection can spread in a community and possibly cause an outbreak.

Estimations differ, but scientists believe the reproduction rate of COVID-19 is 2.2. In other words, a person who gets the novel coronavirus can, on average, pass the virus to two more people.

Self-Isolation Vs. Self-Quarantine

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Self-isolation is the separation from other people if you suffer from an infectious disease. It usually happens once symptoms start and continue until a person is no longer contagious.

After COVID-19 symptoms develop, a person should be isolated to prevent the virus from spreading. Those in self-isolation should stay home away from other members of the household.

Quarantine, on the other hand, aims to prevent spreading COVID-19 before symptoms develop. Anyone who is not ill but may have contracted the virus should self-quarantine for at least 14 days and avoid close contact with others.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is a measure taken to reduce the spread of the virus. It aims to decrease close contact between people.

Social distancing measures include canceling large gatherings, limiting travel, and working from home. It also means physically keeping a distance of at least 6 feet between people.


Zoonotic viruses can spread from animals to humans. It is dangerous because human immune systems cannot defend against these classes of viruses.

The novel coronavirus is possibly zoonotic. Scientists believe the virus may have come from bats and then spread to humans. However, there is no proof yet.

Earlier viral outbreaks like bird flu (avian flu) and SARS (sudden acute respiratory syndrome) are also zoonotic.

News surrounding the novel coronavirus is continually evolving. Understanding these coronavirus terms will be helpful when following the latest news concerning the outbreak.

Do you have any more questions concerning the novel coronavirus or coronavirus terms? Let us know in the comment section below!

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