As Covid-19 takes its toll on the world, we are constantly bombarded daily with new terminology pertaining to the disease as doctors and health experts continue to understand and unpack the novel coronavirus.

Governments the world over have been encouraging citizens to wash hands, sanitise regularly and maintain a physical distance of at least 2m away from one another to prevent the spread of this virus.

It can be difficult to keep up with the new terms associated with the disease and how they affect you.

We decided to break down the most commonly used terms as reported by Africa News:

Coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19) – warning alarm message statistic. Picture: Pexels

“Asymptomatic” is used to describe someone who has the virus but doesn’t present symptoms.

“Total cases” is the total cumulative count of the novel coronavirus in an area. This figure includes deaths, as well as recovered or discharged patients (cases with an outcome). 

“Active cases” refers to individuals who are currently infected by the coronavirus.

“Growth factor” is the factor by which a quantity multiplies itself over time. The formula used is: each day’s new cases divided by new cases on the previous day.

“Contact tracing” is the exercise of following up and identifying people who have been exposed to the coronavirus. It is undertaken in order to prevent further transmission.

“Physical distancing” or “social distancing” means keeping a safe distance from one another and avoiding crowded areas as a means to prevent infection.

“Flattening the curve” refers to slowing the rate of infection (reduce peak number of cases) so that the health-care system is not overwhelmed. 

Picture: Pexels

“Herd immunity” is a situation where enough people have become immune to the disease, which can occur either through exposure or a vaccine.

“Incubation” is the period between when a person becomes infected with the coronavirus and when he or she begins to show symptoms. According to health experts, the Covid-19 incubation period of 2–14 days guides key decisions, such as the length of quarantine periods.

“Outbreak” is when many people in an area fall ill. The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic began with an outbreak in the Chinese town of Wuhan in December 2019.

A “pandemic” arises when an illness affects a large proportion of the population, having spread from a community to various countries in the world.

“Personal protective equipment” or PPE is the equipment used to protect the user against health and safety risks.

“Quarantine” is the measure taken to prevent onward transmission of an illness by separating and restricting movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease from the rest of the population.


“Underlying condition” is a medical problem that is chronic and requires long-term treatment. Such conditions may include heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. People with such conditions are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, writes Africa News.

“Ventilators” are machines that take over the breathing process for struggling patients. It does so by delivering air into the lungs through a tube that is placed into the mouth or nose and down into the windpipe.

“Zoonotic diseases” can be traced back to animals; that is, they exist in animals but can also affect human beings, according to Africa News.

-ANA, editing by Yaron Blecher