The pandemic has changed how we talk to each other – mostly through a mask, over a phone, or six feet apart. It’s also changed what we talk about. There are a lot of new words that are becoming a part of our daily vernacular. While some terms are self-explanatory, others are not.

Combating any disease or outbreak requires awareness and understanding. Knowing the details of everyday medical jargon can help you be informed so you know how to separate misinformation from facts. This is why TABIIB has made a list of all the key terms that are crucial for understanding COVID-19. Think of this as a short guide to all you need to know about coronavirus:


Not displaying any outward signs of infection or illness. Healthcare professionals say that it’s possible to be infected with coronavirus and not show any symptoms of it. There is also evidence that the disease can be spread even if the infected individual doesn’t feel sick themselves.

Community Spread

The CDC defines this as “spread of an illness for which the source is unknown.” Essentially, this means that the disease has spread in a geographic area but no one knows how someone contracted the illness in the first place. No knowledge of past illnesses or recent travel history that explains the introduction of the virus in a particular area also accelerates community spread.

Containment (vs. Mitigation)

In public health terms, containment happens during the early stages of an outbreak, when it’s still possible for the authorities to safely isolate infected individuals and prevent the disease from spreading. Tracing, quarantining, and treating are the steps involved in the containment phase. The next step is mitigation, if the disease escalates. Governments implement large scale measures such as closures and lockdowns to curb its spread.

Epidemic (vs. Pandemic & Outbreak)

The terms epidemic, pandemic, and outbreak can be used interchangeably but there are a few minor differences between them. According to Merriam-Webster, an outbreak “is a sudden rise in the incidence of a disease” and it’s mainly localized. If this outbreak continues and spreads to a wider area, it becomes an epidemic. A pandemic is the next level – it happens when the disease affects the whole country or even the world.

Flattening The Curve

This term refers to the rate at which people become infected with the virus. The effort towards “flattening the curve” is meant to reduce the number of potential cases to manageable levels. The idea behind implementing social distancing measures is to flatten the curve i.e., to create a gradual uptick of cases rather than a sharp rise. This helps the hospitals and clinics to manage their resources effectively and not risk burdening the health system.

Incubation Period

When someone contracts an illness and gets sick from it, there is some time between the actual infection and when symptoms start to show. This is known as the incubation period. For many healthcare professionals, knowing the incubation period is crucial as it can help them understand how quickly the disease can spread to others.


Personal Protective Equipment is equipment worn by healthcare workers to safeguard exposure to the virus through physical contact or airborne particles.


These terms are often used interchangeably. Self-isolation is the act of separating oneself from others. Self-quarantine is when an individual refrains from any contact with another person for a period of time to observe if any symptoms of the disease arise. Isolation and quarantine are preventative measures to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is an old disease mitigating strategy used during the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak to contain the spread of the virus. Practicing social distancing involves maintaining a distance of at least six feet, avoiding mass gatherings, and limiting the time spent in public spaces.

Read more about social distancing here.


A machine designed to deliver air into the lungs through an oral tube for patients who are unable to breathe on their own. Since respiratory distress is a symptom of COVID-19, ventilators are a critical machine for those infected.

There are a lot of new words being introduced in our daily vocabulary and there’s always a chance that it can be used to spread misinformation. Staying informed and aware is the first step towards understanding the pandemic.

I am a writer, covering the sprawling expanse of healthcare, among many other things that I love writing on. I write on healthcare because I want to do my part in informing people about the health industry, When I am not blogging about research and medicine, I enjoy reading, playing squash and backpacking around the world.

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