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A-M Pandemic Vocabulary

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Published in the Humboldt Independent on October 6, 2020 

The pandemic has been good for our vocabularies. Many terms not known before and a few newly invented ones have become household sayings in the time of Covid-19. Test yourself on the first half of the alphabet and notice how many of these terms we now think about or use nearly every day were unheard of just a few months ago. N-Z next time.


A is for Asymptomatic. Showing no symptoms of disease. Sometimes compared to “pre-symptomatic”, meaning infected, but not yet showing symptoms. There is considerable debate about how infectious asymptomatic carriers are.

A is for airborne or aerosol, both methods of disease transmission initially thought to be less important than droplet transmission among COVID-19’s properties. Now, however, it is this type of transmission, with light particles of virus carried on largely stagnant air currents that are thought to be the chief method of transmission.

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that includes the common cold. This particular virus causes the disease known as COVID-19

A is for Ace2 Receptor, a protein on the surface of many cell types in the body. In COVID-19 it serves as an entry point of the disease into the cell. Ace2 receptors occur in the lungs, and at the beginning led scientists to believe COVID-19 was another lung-specific disease like SARS. However, when it began to be observed that COVID-19 entered via Ace2 receptors elsewhere in the body, scientists realized COVID-19 was not so discriminating.

B is for B-cell. These white blood cells, manufactured in the bone marrow, are the part of the immune response that secretes antibodies against a specific disease.

C is for Coronavirus, COVID-19. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that includes the common cold. This particular virus causes the disease known as COVID-19, with 19 signifying the year of its emergence.

C is for Curbside, a method of delivery of goods and services begun in response to businesses being at least partially closed down in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Customers order online or on the phone and then receive their order “curbside”, negating the need for human contact within the business.

C is for Comorbidity. Other health conditions present at the time of infection with COVID-19 and often worsening the effects of the virus are known as comorbidities.

C is also for Cytokine storm. Cytokines are a protein that are a normal part of the immune response. In COVID-19, cytokine storms occur when the immune response goes into overdrive causing life-threatening inflammation and organ damage or failure.

D is for Vitamin D. Many studies have shown that COVID-19 outcomes are worse in patients with low blood levels of Vitamin D

D is for Dexamethazone. This inexpensive steroidal drug was one of the first discovered by British doctors last summer to reduce morbidity in COVID patients on ventilator support. This and other steroids are able to blunt the cytokine storm that occurs when the body’s inflammatory response overwhelms the immune system, causing it to turn on itself.

E is for Essential Worker. This term has come to describe workers whose jobs are essential to keep basic societal functions and needs flowing. Agriculture, food processing, grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and, interestingly, liquor stores and dispensaries, have all been work settings deemed to be essential. Many essential jobs in these occupations are among the lowest paid in our workplaces.

While children do not have the mortality rates of older patients, it is not yet known how capable they are of spreading disease.

F is for F2F instruction. Short for face-to-face, F2F instruction has been a controversial topic since schools and colleges began shutting their doors last spring. Reports from around the world show a widely varying success rate of reopening school campuses to F2F instruction. While children do not have the mortality rates of older patients, it is not yet known how capable they are of spreading disease with or without symptoms of their own. Susceptibility of school and college staff to infection depends on protective measures available, which may be subject to budget constraints caused by the virus.

F is for Flatten the Curve. When we were all learning about exponential growth early last spring, flattening the curve was the goal of the lockdowns and other measures meant to reduce human contact and disease spread. The curve referred to is the graphic representation of the spread of infection, shown by a steep, or exponential, rise in unchecked growth. The curve flattens when spread slows, indicating that healthcare facilities stand a better chance of being able to cope with the numbers of severely infected patients.

G is for Gas Exchange, the passage of oxygen into the bloodstream from the lungs and the passage of carbon dioxide from the bloodstream back into the lungs. In COVID-19 this process is severely hampered when the disease attacks the Ace2-receptors in the air sacs of the lungs.

H is for Herd Immunity, a state of general immunity of a population to a disease. It is brought about by a majority of the population having achieved immunity through surviving the disease or being vaccinated against it. This results in lowered odds of someone without immunity encountering an infectious carrier. The rate of infection determines what proportion of a population needs to be immune to achieve herd immunity. In measles, a very infectious disease, a 94% infection rate confers herd immunity. Not enough is known about COVID-19 to determine the infection rate for herd immunity yet.

H is for Hydroxychloroquine. This old, relatively safe and inexpensive anti-rheumatic and malaria prophylactic became highly politicized early in the treatment of COVID-19. While most studies show the drug has little to no effect in reducing morbidity in progressed disease, some anecdotal findings and a few studies of early intervention have shown mixed results.

I is for immunology, the branch of biology focused on the immune system. The term was coined in 1908 and has modern-day applications in the study of disease, auto-immune response, oncology, virology, etc. COVID-19’s complex and varied effects on the human immune system has made the discipline a common lens through which the disease is viewed.

Numbers show that lockdowns work to slow infection rates.

I is for Interferon, a type of protein involved in the human immune response. Studies are underway now looking into ways in which the three classes of interferon may diminish or enhance the effects of COVID-19.

J is for Just wear a mask.

K is for vitamin K, which assists in the clotting of the blood. Deficiencies in this vitamin are linked to poorer COVID outcomes when the disease causes an impairment to the blood’s clotting properties.

L is for Lockdown. This authoritarian-sounding term was applied to a varying set of restrictions imposed by local or federal governments around the world to encourage people to isolate in order to slow the spread of disease. Under lockdown, citizens were encouraged or even mandated to stay home and out of personal contact with others as much as possible. Numbers show that lockdowns work to slow infection rates. However, other concerns have arisen about the psychological effects of social isolation. Healthcare agencies and governments continue to weigh the pros and cons of isolated measures.

M is for Mask. Just wear one.

Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.