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? Whether or not this play on words was a deliberate typo, used to manipulate social media algorithms, it seems to celebrate the trend of spelling medical terms the way they sound.

In medicine, spelling medical terminology based on its pronunciation can have serious consequences, because 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. Put simply, spelling by ear instead of by the book, is dangerous. Better to take a second and look up the word.

For healthcare workers, the bottom line in entering medical data is accuracy. 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.

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