The new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19 for translators and interpreters
[this page (like the whole website) has gone through a substantial remake;
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Disclaimer: mind that this is by no means meant to be any kind of medical advice; if you are unwell, seek medical advice with the designated healthcare institutions in your area.
About the names
The not-so-new-anymore coronavirus is called SARS-CoV-2. It is the same in English and in French (not SRAS-CoV-2 in French!) It is associated with the disease called COVID-19 (from ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’). Some sources tend to use these two terms somewhat interchangeably. Even though this is comprehensible, it is not correct (translators and editors, beware!)
You may come across the term ‘2019-nCoV’ (from ‘2019 novel Coronavirus’). This is one of the ways the SARS-CoV-2 virus was called before it was given its official name. It should not be called this way anymore.
Diagnostic tests: PCR or RT-PCR?
Many people talk about ‘PCR tests for COVID’ or use the terms ‘PCR’ and ‘RT-PCR’ interchangeably as if ‘PCR’ was just a shorter name for ‘RT-PCR’. Mind that this is not correct.
PCR, a polymerase chain reaction, is a technique to amplify specific fragments of DNA in a sample. RT-PCR is a PCR preceeded by a step of reverse transcription (RT) which allows to make DNA based on an RNA template first. Sometimes we need it because we want to look for specific RNA and not DNA sequences in a sample. This is the case of molecular testing for SARS-CoV-2. This virus is made of RNA, so we need to look for characteristic RNA (and not DNA) fragments in order to detect its presence in a sample. If we looked for DNA of this virus, all people would test negative since it does not have any!
However much we may want it, it is not using the wrong test that will stop the pandemic, so use the right words, too. SARS-CoV-2 molecular tests are based on RT-PCR, not just PCR. Do not forget these two important letters in the beginning of the test name. They do make a difference.