Covid-19 vocab to help understand what experts are saying

A quick rundown of all the most common terms and what they mean in relation to the coronavirus Photo: (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

A quick rundown of all the most common terms and what they mean in relation to the coronavirus Photo: (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Published Jun 29, 2020


DURBAN - Coronavirus has led to an explosion of new words and phrases. This new vocabulary helps us understand what the experts recommend and why so that we can all follow guidelines to keep us and everyone around us safe.

Here is a quick rundown of all the most common terms and what they mean in relation to the virus:



The day, or stretch of days, with the highest number of cases or deaths reported in a given period, as seen in a day-by-day breakdown (also called an epidemic curve). It generally indicates the "worst" point in an epidemic — after the peak, case numbers subside.


Second wave:

A fresh crop of Coronavirus infections in an area where public health officials had brought virus transmission down to low levels.


Incubation period:

The time from exposure to a pathogen to the time symptoms develop. The incubation period helps determine how long a person should be quarantined to prevent the spread of infection.


Super-spreading event:

When a person infected with a pathogen passes it on to an unusually high number of people. With Covid-19, large case clusters have resulted from business conferences, choir practices, funerals, family and family gatherings.


Viral shedding:

When an infected person releases viral particles from their bodies, which may or may not be contagious depending on the stage of infection. This can happen through activities like breathing, speaking, singing, sneezing and coughing.



Is sometimes used to describe anyone who shows no symptoms at the time of testing positive for the virus but some of these individuals may actually be "presymptomatic" and will develop symptoms over the next few days.


Asymptomatic/presymptomatic spread:

When an infected person who has no symptoms of the disease transmits the novel Coronavirus to someone else. It's not clear how frequently people with no symptoms are spreading the virus, but researchers have documented spread from both asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases.


Herd immunity:

The idea that if enough people in one place develop immunity to the virus, through exposure or vaccination, then the virus doesn't have any new people to spread to so it burns itself out.



A medical condition that increases a person's risk of becoming very sick if they develop Covid-19. These conditions include chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), obesity, serious heart conditions and type 2 diabetes.



Proteins produced by a person's immune system to fight infections. In the case of the novel coronavirus, antibodies typically take about 1-3 weeks after infection to develop in measurable amounts.


Pool sampling

: A testing strategy where samples from different people are combined into a larger batch that is tested for the presence of the coronavirus. If a batch tests positive, the samples would be retested individually to determine which ones contain the virus.

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