Epidemic vs. pandemic? Glossary of terms for virus outbreak

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People, some wearing sanitary masks, take photos in central Milan, Italy, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. At least 190 people in Italy’s north have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and four people have died, including an 84-year-old man who died overnight in Bergamo, the Lombardy regional government reported. (Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP)

Some of the terminology being used about the new virus:

OUTBREAK: A sudden rise in cases of a disease in a particular place.

EPIDEMIC: A large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region. The current outbreak of a flu-like illness caused by a new virus in China is considered an epidemic.

PANDEMIC: Generally refers to an epidemic that has spread on a more global scale, affecting large numbers of people. While there are cases of illness outside China, the World Health Organization said it is not a pandemic. Exactly when enough places have enough infections to declare one isn’t a black-and-white decision. But generally, the WHO is looking for sustained outbreaks on different continents.

CORONAVIRUS: Term for a family of viruses. Some cause the common cold while others cause more severe illnesses like SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, which stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome.

COVID-19: Name given to the illness caused by the new coronavirus first identified in China in late 2019. CO and VI are for coronavirus, D is for disease, and 19 for 2019. The virus itself is called SARS-cov-2.

INCUBATION PERIOD: Time between infection and the appearance of signs or symptoms of an illness. The incubation period for the new virus is thought to be up to two weeks.

QUARANTINE: Restrict movement of healthy people who may have been exposed to an infection to see if they become ill. For example, the passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan were quarantined.

ISOLATION: Separate sick people from healthy people to prevent spread of disease. For example, people with the infection are put in isolation in hospitals.