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An old name for the virus that causes COVID-19. It is now called SARS-CoV-2.




Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

An often-fatal failure of the respiratory system. When an illness is called “acute,” it means it comes on really quickly, which makes getting treatment fast necessary. People with ARDS breathe rapidly, are short of breath and might have bluish skin. ARDS is a potential complication of COVID-19, and it can happen very quickly. 

advance directives

Legal documents including the Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care — A Living Will states what type of treatment a person wishes to receive in the event they become physically or mentally unable to communicate their wishes. 




The tiny air-filled sacs that make up our lungs. Lungs aren’t like big balloons. They’re more like sponges made up of millions of tiny balloons. There are cells in our alveoli that make a protein that lubricates our lungs and keeps them happy. The COVID-19 virus binds to those cells. Researchers think that may be why the virus is so much more severe than the cold-causing coronavirus.


Kills bacteria — but not viruses. Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap against viruses like the coronavirus.


A medication that kills bacteria. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, but they are an important part of treating secondary infections like bacterial pneumonia, which can occur as a side-effect of COVID-19.


Antimicrobial products kill most microbes, like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% isopropyl alcohol is antimicrobial. Some hand sanitizers are only antibacterial and will not protect against coronavirus. 

antiretroviral drugs

These are drugs that attack retroviruses like HIV. Antiretrovirals block or slow down an enzyme that retroviruses use to chop up DNA. If a virus can’t chop DNA, it can’t make more of itself and can’t make you sick. Because coronavirus also uses this enzyme, there was some hope that already existing antiretrovirals could fight the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that it works on coronavirus. 


When you aren’t showing symptoms. There is some evidence for asymptomatic spread of COVID-19, but those may be cases with mild symptoms that went unreported.


case fatality rate (CFR)

The number of sick people who die from a specific disease. You calculate case fatality ratio by taking the number of people who have died from a disease and dividing it by the number of people who got that disease.

A CFR can change over space and time. 


Stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is the U.S. agency that tracks diseases across the country, and is responsible for confirming COVID-19 cases. The main lab is in Atlanta, but the agency has other labs around the country where the study of deadly diseases and the search for cures take place.

circulatory system

The system that moves blood through your body. Blood transports nutrients and oxygen.

clinical trial

A designed trial to test the effectiveness of a medication or treatment. Clinical trials include “controls.” A control is a person or group or lab specimen that doesn’t receive the new treatment. The goal is to see if the treatment really works, or if it’s just a placebo effect or caused by something else.

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