26 Sept 2022

Covid-19: A plain English guide to words and terms used regularly during the outbreak

Many people find health information difficult to understand at the best of times, but over the last month we have been presented with a whole new set of medical words and terms. This is especially difficult for the one in six adults in Ireland who have literacy issues.

That’s why the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) has produced a plain English guide to many of the new words that we are hearing every day.

From asymptomatic to clusters, herd immunity to mitigations phases, and super spreaders to virologists, there are over 70 words and terms explained.

NALA is also making its tutors available on the phone to anyone who needs additional help understanding this information.

“The HSE is doing an amazing job at explaining everything to do with the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Their communications has been very clear and easy to understand. In Ireland there are over 500,000 people with low literacy and numeracy levels, and who will have greater difficulty understanding health information. That is why we produced this plain English guide to words and terms being used. Also, if anyone needs help reading or understanding health information please call us on our Freephone 1800 20 20 65 and we will try to help,” said Dr Inez Bailey, NALA CEO.

Have you heard of a Covidiot? Apparently this refers to a stupid person who stubbornly ignores social distancing or who hoards things like toilet roll.

Here are a selection of words explained. You can check out the full list by clicking here

This is where you are not showing any symptoms that you have COVID-19. However, you can still pass the virus on to others.

Chain of infection
This is how an infection spreads from one person to another. This can also be called chain of transmission.

This refers to a small group of people in a particular space who all have the same disease. For example, a cluster of people in nursing homes or hospitals.

This is where certain groups of people (such as over 65s and people with health issues) will stay in their homes to avoid contact with any person who may have COVID-19. 

Community transmission
This occurs where a person who gets COVID-19 has not travelled to an affected area, and has no connection to a known case.

Herd immunity
This is when a high percentage of the community is immune to a disease, usually through vaccination and/or prior illness.

Incubation period
The time between when you are exposed to the virus and when symptoms and signs become obvious.

A state of isolation or restricted access put in place by the State to keep people safe against the spread of COVID-19.

Morbidity rate
This is the percentage of people who have a disease in the population.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
This is equipment that will protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It includes for example masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection.

Super spreader
This is a person who infects significantly more people than usual. This is not a scientific term and has been used by the media.

This is a small piece of cotton wool used by a doctor or nurse for taking a specimen (sample of something). If you need a test for COVID-19 a healthcare worker will take a sample from inside your mouth and nose using a swab.

A scientist or doctor who studies viruses and the diseases viruses cause.

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