In its Vaccine Glossary of Terms, the CDC defines herd immunity (community immunity) as “a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely.” But what is the definition of “heard immunity” – a recently popular hashtag on Twitter and Instagram? Substituting “herd immunity” vs “heard immunity” may have been a ploy used to manipulate social media algorithms. But this misspelling was made in so many posts and articles online that people genuinely seem confused as to which is correct.
In medicine, spelling medical terminology the way it sounds can have serious consequences. Words that sound alike may have completely different meanings. The prefixes “hypo-” and “hyper” are a great example; when attached to the same suffixes or roots, they produce terms that mean opposite things. Also, people from different geographic areas sometimes pronounce the same words differently. Put simply, spelling as you speak is dangerous in medicine. So is improvising. Take a second and look up the word in a dictionary or verify with the speaker instead.
For healthcare workers, the bottom line in entering medical data is accuracy. Flowery cursive penmanship may be going the way of the dinosaur, but spelling skills are still essential. That’s true regardless of where we use medical terms – in a computerized chart or in a medical article. Just as we can be influenced by trending typos, we can immunize ourselves and our profession with a good dose of basic medical terminology. Herd immunity, done right.