Social Distancing, Epidemic, Contact tracing and other Coronavirus-related jargon explained

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can exhibit signs similar to the common flu with a cold, cough and a sore throat.

Abigail Banerji March 30, 2020 15:21:30 IST
Social Distancing, Epidemic, Contact tracing and other Coronavirus-related jargon explained

The novel coronavirus , that started out in China in December 2019, has now become a pandemic. Several countries all over the world have shut off their borders, closed down their transport systems and gone into complete lockdown with millions of people stuck at home for the foreseeable future – at least until the cases of virus decrease to a nonexponential number like it is happening in China.

COVID-19: Origin

Novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is a disease that is part of the SARS family and while there have been some theories of its origin, researchers are still not sure about it. Bats, snakes, pangolins are a few of the animal sources that have been looked at to understand the origin of this virus. What is definite is that this virus has come from nature via natural evolution and is not an engineered virus.

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Wash your hands with soap and water in order to reduce the chances of you getting infected with the coronavirus

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is located in the respiratory tract and can exhibit signs similar to the common flu with a cold, cough and a sore throat. Other symptoms include shortness in breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest and gastrointestinal problems or diarrhoea. However, in some instances, the virus can also turn in pneumonia.

The older generation of people is more prone to getting infected, especially those who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes can develop serious complications with COVID-19 . But that does not mean that the younger people are immune. In the UK, a newborn baby contracted the virus and has become the youngest person infected with the coronavirus .

COVID-19: Precautions

Washing your hands and staying indoors are the two easiest ways to break the chain of social transmission.

Social media, news agencies and other organisations, in their bid to spread information, have also been using the words self-isolation, quarantine and social distancing interchangeably. However, they do not mean the same thing and should not be used at the wrong place.

This is your guide to understand what these words mean, how they differ from each other and where and how you can use them.

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What is social/physical distancing?

Social distancing means deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. By staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chance of getting infected with COVID-19 . The virus spreads via respiratory droplets and they can stay in the air for upto three hours and on other surfaces like plastic, cardboard, etc from anywhere between 1-3 days.

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Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chance of getting infected with COVID-19 .

India's health ministry explains social distancing as non-pharmaceutical infection prevention and control intervention implemented to avoid/decrease contact between those who are infected with a disease-causing pathogen and those who are not, so as to stop or slow down the rate and extent of disease transmission in a community. This eventually leads to a decrease in spread, morbidity and mortality due to the disease.

What is self-quarantine?

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Quarantined people may stay at home or another location so that they don’t spread the disease to healthy people.

If you are quarantined and you become ill, you can seek medical treatment from a healthcare provider. The quarantine can be voluntary, but in a public health emergency, officials have the authority to quarantine people who have been exposed to an infectious disease.

What is self-isolation?

Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. It is a routine procedure in hospitals and healthcare facilities. While it is usually voluntary, in a public health emergency, officials have the authority to isolate people who are sick.

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A guard stands outside an isolation ward inside a hospital Image credit: PTI

What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Both isolation and quarantine serve the same purpose but the term isolation is used for people who are already sick and kept isolated. This ensures that the people infected with the virus are separated from those who are not and do not spread the disease further.

What are close contact and contact tracing?

Anyone who has come in contact with someone who is infected has a chance of being infected as well, and it can be a mild or severe attack. If you have come in close contact, it is important that you self-isolate yourself at home and follow the instructions set out by the health ministry of your country. The MOHFW has a guideline for people who think they might be infected on their website.

Close contact can be defined as being within approximately two meters of someone with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time. Instances of close contact can include but is not limited to, being coughed on, living, visiting, waiting in a healthcare room with someone who is infected with COVID-19 .

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“Close contacts” of a person who might have COVID-19 can then be isolated (if sick) or quarantined (if well) to lessen the further spread of the virus. Image credit: AAP/JOEL CARRETT

Several people can be affected by an infected person, even if they enter a room hours later, and touch a surface that was earlier touched (and contaminated) by the infected person.

A “contact tracer” interviews people who are a confirmed case of COVID-19 . They, through painstaking and quick detective work, find out who else might've already acquired the virus from the infected person, or may have been exposed. These people are then contacted and put into isolation. The symptoms for coronavirus may appear within 2-14 days after exposure.

Outbreak vs Epidemics vs Pandemic: What’s the difference?

Outbreaks: An outbreak is a noticeable, often small, increase over the expected number of cases.

Epidemics: Similar to outbreaks, an epidemic is a spread of a disease over a larger geographic area.

Pandemics: Once an epidemic spreads to multiple countries or regions of the world, it is considered a pandemic.

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A visual aid to understand the difference between epidemic, pandemic and outbreak. Image credit: News18 creatives

What are the different stages of the spread of the virus?

Stage 1 - Imported cases
These cases are the people who have travelled to foreign countries; places that have confirmed cases of the virus and have come back to India.

Stage 2 - Local transmission
Like mentioned above, these cases are those people who have come in contact with those that have a travel history.

Stage 3 - Community transmission
This is the stage we need to avoid as there is no way that the virus can be traced back to a certain person.

Stage 4 - Epidemic
This is the last stage and what the world saw China grapple with.

Updated Date:

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