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SARS-CoV-2 vs. Covid-19 – Outbreak terms explained

SARS-CoV-2 vs. Covid-19 – Outbreak terms explained


The coronavirus pandemic came hand in hand with an overwhelming amount of information. Every day, we’re faced with new medical terms, public health measures and more.

Here’s a glossary of all the terms you need to be up to date with during the pandemic. We’ll keep adding to the list as more things pop up.

Virus and outbreak terms


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

This is official term of the virus that is causing this pandemic. International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020.


Covid-19 is the official name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 e.g. HIV is the virus that causes the disease AIDS.


This is a family of viruses that SARS-CoV-2 belongs to (technically they are known as betacoronaviruses, but you can just say coronavirus). The 2003 SARS outbreak was a coronavirus, as was MERS in 2012. They are named coronaviruses because of their shape. When viewed through a microscope, the individual virus looks like a sphere surrounded by a spiky crown (or corona).


An endemic disease is a disease that is always present in a certain population or region. Endemic diseases are not always present at high levels. They can be relatively rare. The defining feature of a regional endemic disease is that it can always be found in the population that lives there. E.g. Malaria is endemic in many areas of Africa.


According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a pandemic is a disease that has spread in multiple countries around the world, usually affecting a large number of people. The word comes from the Greek word “pan” meaning all and “demos” meaning people. 


An epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people. For example, in 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic took the lives of nearly 800 people worldwide.

Herd Immunity

Herd immunity means that a group contains enough individuals who are immune to a certain disease that, if an infected person entered the group, the disease would not spread easily. In this case, the herd as a whole has “immunity” against the disease even if not all individuals are immune.

Zoonotic Disease

A zoonotic disease is a disease spread between animals and people. Zoonotic diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease and is believed to have originated from bats. HIV, Ebola, Zika virus, and even measles (which jumped from cows to humans a very long time ago) are all believed to have originated in animals before passing to humans and infecting them.


R0 is pronounced “R naught.” It’s a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. It’s also referred to as the reproduction number; as an infection spreads to new people, it reproduces itself. R0 tells you the average number of people who will catch a disease from one contagious person. It specifically applies to a population of people who were previously free of infection and haven’t been vaccinated. The exact R0 for Covid-19 is still being determined, but it’s currently believed to be between 2 and 2.5.

Confirmed Cases

The known number of cases, based on diagnostic tests. Since there is a shortage of testing kits and testing is not being carried on a mass scale, the number of cases will no doubt be higher than the number of confirmed cases.

Case fatality rate (CFR)

Case fatality rate is the death rate. The figure explains what percentage of Covid-19 cases are fatal. The rate varies by country and age group, and the final figure depends on figuring out the true number of cases (which is hard to estimate without widespread testing).

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