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Antibodies, booster, comorbidity — an A-Z guide to how Covid changed language in 2020

In 2020, several new words and phrases were added to common parlance due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's a look at the new lexicon.

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New Delhi: The year 2020 was unprecedented in many, many ways due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now it is coming to an end, leaving behind lessons of struggle, memories of survival — and a brand new lexicon.

Several new words and phrases entered our vocabulary this year, especially scientific and medical terminologies.

Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com have declared ‘pandemic’ as their word of the year, while Collins Dictionary has given this title to ‘lockdown’.

Oxford Dictionary, meanwhile, noted that 2020 cannot be adequately described in one word, and instead listed out the many words that were intrinsic to this year.

Here is a similar list, by no means exhaustive, of words that have become an integral part of common parlance now.

A: People who tested positive for Covid were divided into two categories — symptomatic and  asymptomatic. Those who were asymptomatic were more likely to spread the virus since they did not know they were infected! After testing positive for Covid-19, you endure a 2-week infection period to end up with antibodies that protect the body from future infections. Many unfortunately also mistook antibodies to be the equivalent of a vaccine and went to town. From antibodies, we come to antigen, which is any substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies against it .

As people wait eagerly for the vaccine, there is a (hopefully) small group called anti-vaxxers who are opposed to all forms of vaccination. Really, in the 21st century too? This year was the year of science but what do you think of the proposed AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) doctors being allowed to perform surgeries?

B: As the virus started to travel fast and reach every corner of the world, Break the Chain’ of infection became a war cry of sorts to contain it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also mentioned this when he announced the first 21-day lockdown in India in March. To combat the second Covid wave, Kerala launched the break the chain campaign — a mass hand-washing campaign. While the vaccine hope kept many going, others believed a booster shot would be most effective. A booster shot is an additional vaccine dose given periodically to increase the immune response of the body against a pathogen. Covid also gave people a new skill set during the lockdown — baking banana bread. Yummy!

C: Many wondered why coronavirus was also called Covid-19. This is because Covid stands for ‘coronavirus disease’ and 19 because the first case was reported in 2019. Community transmission is when there is no clear source of origin of the infection in the community and you can’t trace it back to the source. India was in denial of reaching the community transmission phase for the longest time. In the absence of community transmission, contact-tracing was undertaken to find the source of the spread of the infection. And once infections were traced they gave birth to containment zones — places or areas with a large number of Covid cases that were cordoned off. In Delhi, containment zones were notified when there were three or more Covid-19 cases in a particular area.

One of the words we all bandied about like doctors was comorbidities. This refers to existing underlying diseases, like high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, among other diseases, which increase risk of infection and even dying of it. Case fatality rate is a measure of the severity of the disease. It is the proportion of people who die from a disease compared to all those diagnosed with the disease.

D: Disinfectants, such as sodium hypochlorite, were the main tool to sanitise and disinfect surfaces and ensure a Covid-free environment, Trump even diagnosed it as a treatment for Covid. Doomscrolling was inevitable in 2020 with the mounting death toll due to Covid-19. One of the most common comorbidities among people is diabetes.  And another skill Covid introduced was making dalgona coffee. Avoid it.

E: People finally got acquainted with epidemiology the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why — due to Covid. There was also confusion whether Covid-19 was an epidemic or a pandemic. An epidemic is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region. Covid also made us respect essential services more than ever before, which at the peak of the pandemic and lockdown helped ensure things ran smoothly. In India, the lockdown first announced in March at short notice, led to a migrant exodus and a huge blow to the economy.

F: And we learnt that curves don’t only occur on roads or the human body — flattening the curve means slowing down the spread of the virus, which is represented by a curve in the Covid graph. Talking about this and fatality rates made people behave as they though they were experts.

The virus could not stop flights, and while boarding a plane everyone was advised to wear a face shield. While we sit around and talk about Covid, those dealing with it directly day in and day out, were frontline workers. These included doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, sanitation workers, ASHA workers and so many more.

G: 2020 will be remembered as the year of a global crisis, which resulted in more than 1.7 million deaths worldwide. It was also the year for guidelines — Covid guidelines, lockdown guidelines and general behavioural guidelines. Wearing gloves was another way to not pick up the virus. And as news of a new Covid strain in UK and South Africa suddenly surfaced, people worried about its genetic mutation.

H: Hydroxychloroquine became famous because US President Donald Trump took it and promoted it as an antidote to the virus. It was also the first hope as a Covid cure. The medicine, otherwise used to treat malaria and arthritis, was given to frontline workers even before they tested positive for coronavirus. India, which produces it in plentiful, changed its export policy and exported the drug to the US, only after Trump threatened consequences.

Smarter people knew that the good old hand sanitiser was far more efficient — and it had no side effects either! Except maybe really rough hands. Hotspots (no, not WiFi) had to be avoided, as they were areas of mass Covid infections. For example, the Koyambedu market in Chennai was a coronavirus hotspot and thus shut down. Sweden has now turned into a hotspot after it avoided lockdown and banked on herd immunity — when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection.

I: If one tested positive for Covid-19 they had to go into isolation, to ensure that they do not infect anyone else. And they often recovered because of their immunity. If someone was in contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19, those in contact got themselves tested depending on the incubation period, which is the number of days between when you’re infected with something and when you see symptoms. Oh and Covid wasn’t just an epidemic, a pandemic but also a global infodemic, which refers to the rapid and far-reaching spread of both accurate and inaccurate information.

J: Jobs, jobs, jobs  the four-letter word that concerned millions worldwide as many were laid off and others were looking for them. Many equipped themselves with all the Covid trivia by religiously reading medical journals such as The Lancet. In India, one knew Covid-19 was a reality when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the janata curfew. Remember all that clapping?

K: Kits were the go to word in the Covid dictionary. From Covid test kits, antibody kits to PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) kits and many more. To increase their immunity many turned to the home recipe of kadha, which is a combination of turmeric, cloves, black peppercorn, basil leaves and cinnamon.  And suddenly, we were all very careful about whom we hug or kiss, right?

L: What started as a 21-day lockdown in India lasted for many more months. Globally, many countries are still under different stages of lockdown due to a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Some patients developed chronic symptoms when they tested positive for coronavirus, which was referred to as Long Covid. And labs ended up being where all samples were tested to gauge whether anyone was Covid positive or negative.

M: ‘Mask up’ was the new motto in 2020 and suddenly we all looked like thieves. Fines were imposed on those who didn’t wear masks going as high as Rs 2,000 in Delhi.

And everyone who knows anything now speaks knowledgeably about Moderna, which is one of the most promising Covid vaccines. For real Covid aficionados, mRNA vaccines were the in thing. These new type of vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response in the body.

One of the most worrying fallout of lockdowns ad isolation has been the state of the world’s mental health. People are now openly talking about anxiety, depression, panic attacks.

N: While most of the year, people were locked inside their homes, many wondered if this was the new normal because of the novel coronavirus. And since hugging was not allowed, namaste became the new way of greeting. And N95 masks the new uniform.

O: Serious Covid case require high dosages of oxygen and a drop in its level makes breathing difficult. Meanwhile, the minute you sneeze, you check your oxygen levels on an oxymeter. With people locked down, online classes — schools lessons, gym classes and therapy sessions — became the new norm. And for entertainment, people turned to over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hotstar.

P: Covid-19 is a global pandemic – everyone says that but what does it mean? A pandemic is a disease outbreak which spreads across countries or continents. The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a pandemic in March 2020. With all kinds of theories spread about the infection, there was a lot of pseudoscience in the air.

Another aspect of Covid that one cannot fail to mention are PPE kits. Doctors had to wear them for Covid duty and because it generated so much heat, a doctor’s shift would not last more than 8 hours maximum. And the Pfizer vaccine became the first Covid vaccine to be approved in the West.

Q: Quarantine, usually regarded as a punishment, became the norm this year and nobody is really complaining.

R: R value represents the number of people one patient can infect and is also an indicator how fast an infection can spread. When the R value was high, there were more restrictions to ensure the value declined. The two types of Covid tests were RT-PCR and the Rapid Antigen Test, however the RT-PCR was more reliable.

And one medicine that is being used widely as a treatment for Covid is the antiviral drug Remdesivir.

S: Most of us tried to practice social distancing to keep safe from catching the virus. Especially if people had any Covid symptoms such as a fever, cough, cold, body aches or God forbid, sneeze. Koyembedu market and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation were examples of two instances when people did not maintain social distancing and thus they became super-spreaders. A seroprevalence survey which measured the percentage of people amongst a population who have antibodies — showed that a fair amount of people might have had Covid-19 without knowing. However, with new strains of coronavirus emerging, one does not know what to expect.

T: The 3 Ts to ensure the coronavirus is contained are testing, tracking and tracing. To increase knowledge about immunity, many researched T-cells  — an essential part of the immune system. In order to ensure the vaccine is safe, many clinical trials took place. In the meantime, thermal scanners were one way of checking if a person had any Covid symptoms. And the test positivity rate was a good measure of seeing if Covid was declining in an area, city or country.

U: Everything that took place this year was unprecedentedUnemployment, globally, was almost at an all-time high as the global economy came to a standstill due to Covid. However things got better as the unlock (in various phases) was implemented.

V: Everyone is relying on vaccines to go back to the BC (before Covid) era. Virology, the study of viruses and virus-like agents, was also an important field of research this year. Moving to more serious and sombre matters, governments across the world have been investing in ventilators, to prevent deaths due to Covid.

W: Work from home (better known as living at work) was how most workplaces were forced to function in 2020. All because someone allegedly ate a bat at a wet market in Wuhan. The WHO was accused of acting late on Covid-19 and got its fair share of flak.

X: This year unfortunately also saw a fair share of xenophobia, with many calling coronavirus the Chinese Virus, including Trump.

Y: As countries opened up and people resumed going to malls, taking flights and watching movies in the theatre halls, yin-yang seating became the new norm to ensure complete safety.

Z: Zoom calls were how people communicated in 2020, how offices managed to run things smoothly and also how schools kept classes going, relentlessly. Despite some security issues flagged, the Zooming continued. And suddenly, zinc was most popular mineral in everyone’s medicine chest, added on to Vitamin C, Vitamin D tablets as the immunity booster of the year. A lack of zinc makes a person more susceptible to disease and illness, especially of the respiratory system.


Also read: Trump, Macron, Madonna, Usain Bolt — Covid didn’t spare the most powerful & world famous


 

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