Understanding COVID-19 terminology

It’s officially been a year since coronavirus entered our lives and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

Although the virus has become a part of our daily lives in one way or another, how much do we really understand about the virus and its terminology? Can you tell your antigen apart from your antibody?

With all the science based information that is presented to us on a daily basis, we thought we would share a terminology guide to explain a little more about the virus and all the meaning behind it.

Airborne: Airborne transmission is defined as the spread of an infectious agent caused by the dissemination (the action or fact of spreading something) of droplet nuclei (aerosols) that remain infectious when suspended in air over long distances and time.

Antibodies: A protein produced in the blood that fights diseases by attacking and killing harmful bacteria, viruses, etc.

Antibody test: Antibody tests are used to detect antibodies to the COVID-19 virus to see if it’s likely that you have had the virus before. The test works by taking a blood sample and testing for the presence of antibodies to see if you have developed an immune response to the virus.

Antigen test: Antigen tests are immunoassays that detect the presence of a specific viral antigen, which implies current viral infection. Most of the currently authorised antigen tests return results in approximately 15 minutes but are generally less sensitive than RT-PCR tests.

Asymptomatic: Asymptomatic means no symptoms. When someone has an infection, there is a period of time after they catch the germ before they have symptoms. This is called an incubation period. In some cases, people may catch the infection and never have any symptoms.

Cell membrane: The cell membrane, also called the plasma membrane, is found in all cells and separates the interior of the cell from the outside environment.

Cell nucleus: The cell nucleus is a membrane-bound structure that contains a cell’s hereditary information and controls its growth and reproduction.

Coronavirus: A coronavirus is a type of common virus that can infect your nose, sinuses, or upper throat.

COVID:19: A newly identified coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which has been identified as a respiratory virus and has caused a worldwide pandemic.

Cytoplasm: A liquid that fills the inside of a cell. It is composed of water, salts and various organic molecules.

Herd immunity: Herd immunity, also known as ‘population immunity’, is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

Immunoassay: Immunoassay is a test that uses the binding of antibodies to antigens to identify and measure certain substances.

Incubation period: The incubation period is the number of days between when you’re infected with something and when you might see symptoms. Healthcare professionals and government officials use this number to decide how long people need to stay away from others during an outbreak.

Messenger RNA (mRNA): Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a single-stranded RNA molecule that is complementary to one of the DNA strands of a gene. The mRNA is an RNA version of the gene that leaves the cell nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm where proteins are made.

Pandemic: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a pandemic is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease. When a disease first emerges, most of us lack the natural immunity to fight it. This can cause a sudden, sometimes rapid spread of the disease between people, across communities and around the world.

PCR test: PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction test. It is a diagnostic test that determines if you are infected by analysing a sample to see if it contains genetic material from a virus.

RNA: Known as ribonucleic acid, RNA is one of the three major biological macromolecules (a molecule containing a large number of atoms, such as protein).

SARS: SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS is an airborne virus, which means it’s spread in a similar way to colds and flu.

Social distancing: Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce the social interaction between people to help reduce the transmission of the virus.

Transmission: Transmission is the process by which viruses spread between hosts. It includes spread to members of the same species or spread to different species in the case of viruses that can cross species barriers.

Viral load: A term used in media virology which usually refers to the amount of measurable virus in a standard volume of material, usually blood or plasma.

Whilst we all remain optimistic that coronavirus will become an insignificant part of our lives in the year to come, we hope this guide will help you perfect your COVID-19 vocabulary in the meantime.