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Glossary for COVID-19 terms

Key terms

By no means is this an exhaustive list on all the terminology relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, please refer to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Adenovirus- a group of related viruses. They were first removed from human adenoid glands (found at the back of the throat), hence the name.

Asymptomatic- where a person is infected by the virus but does not present any symptoms. Can still pass the virus and infection onto others.


Coronavirus- a group of related viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. Named after the crown-like spike protein on the virus’s surface- ‘corona’ in Latin for crown.

COVID-19/ COVID – the disease that coronavirus causes


DNA- deoxyribonucleic acid, the cell’s code to life. DNA instructs how to make proteins, which are essential for function in the body. Double helix.


Epicentre- the central point of the virus outbreak. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic depending on the variant of virus.

Epidemic- an outbreak in a localised area at a particular time


Herd immunity- when enough people are protected against the disease, that it lends immunity to those who are not protected. Can achieve protection against the disease through either previous infection, and/ or vaccination.


Immunity- achieving immunity means to be protected from future infections by viruses, and bacteria for example. You can achieve immunity through either previous infection, and/ or vaccination.

Immunosuppressed- the immune system is suppressed. In other words, people who are immunosuppressed have a reduced ability to fight diseases. Thus preventing them from being infected in the first place is of great importance.

Infection- the unnormal invasion of microorganisms into the body. Some infections present symptoms- at least straight away- while others do not show any symptoms.


Lockdown- preventing people from leaving where they are, to stop the transmission and contain the virus in the COVID-19 pandemic.


Mass vaccination- vaccinating many people in a certain area at a particular time

mRNA- messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid). Single helix. Acts as a go-between for DNA and the proteins that are being made.



Pandemic- a global, or national outbreak

Protein- an important molecule. Used as a fuel source, a building block, a carrier among other things, in the human body.


Restrictions- impeding or hindering movement and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to contain the spread of the virus and curb transmission.


Shedding- (in biology) refers to viruses casting off viral particles which can then infect others

Side effects- effects that are different and potentially harmful from the main, intended effects of a medication, treatment, or vaccine. Examples of some side effects: headaches, aches, pains, fever.

Symptomatic- where a person is infected with the virus and does present symptoms. Can still pass the virus and infection onto others.

Symptoms- the signs a person has been infected; this can be physical or mental. With COVID-19, you can show symptoms as symptomatic, or not present symptoms as asymptomatic, if infected. Examples of symptoms for COVID-19 include loss of taste and smell, a persistent cough, fever.


Transmission- how a particular disease, in this case coronavirus, is passed from one person to another.


Vaccination- the administration of vaccine into the body.

Vaccine- a form of active immunity, where a weakened, live version of the infection agent is administered into the body. The immune system kicks in and destroys the infection agent, but not before taking note of the genetic material (e.g. mRNA or DNA from the protein) from the agent. The immune system will use this genetic material to ‘remember’ the infection next time it appears, so it can prepare a speedier, more efficient response.

Vaccine hesitancy- uncertainty as to whether people should take the vaccine. This could be due to a variety of reasons: being unfamiliar with the vaccine and its contents, being untrusting of the government and those in the health organisation, and/ or being

Viral load- the amount of virus (or viral genetic material) a person has in their body at a particular time. A person not infected with the virus will have no viral load, whereas a person infected with the virus will have a much higher viral load.

Virus- a microorganism. Some spread diseases as vectors, while some are ‘better’. To date, it is being argued whether viruses are alive or not.


Wuhan- Capital of Hubei Province in China. First epicentre of coronavirus.

By Manisha Halkhoree

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