I am standing in front of a dense forest the shadows of which approach me slowly as the sun sets over the treetops. I am not afraid for I have what it takes to enter this intricate environment and find my way out skillfully. I reach into my backpack and take out my ultimate weapon – Volume I of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary!
This ancient weapon will lead me to the middle of this uncharted forest, where a special tree stands; many have tried to reach it in order to decipher the enchanted letters i n f e c t i o n on its bark but so far no one has been able to conclude what their true meaning is. I cannot hesitate nor can I turn back; I must enter the forest of medical terminology and figure out how to translate 'infection' to Arabic and Hebrew.
So why didn't I just write that I only wanted to decide how to translate infection to Arabic and Hebrew? Well, the reason is many translators don't really bother digging into the etymology of certain words and simply "adopt" a certain translation. One of the most common examples is the word infection (sponsor is also a good example). So, I can either assume that deciding on the correct translation is a task worthy of a mage or that few professionals have really bothered to do their work as they should.
The reason I'm bringing this up is I recently had the opportunity to go over a few pages on the website of Hillel Yaffe Hospital where I happened to bump into infection and its incorrect and inconsistent translation.
In my "ancient" dictionary, two of the definitions of infection are contamination and communication of disease. Each of these definitions has a separate word in Arabic; contamination is translated to تلوث Talawuth (see the definition here) and communication of disease is translated to عدوى Ad'wa (see the definition here). In Hebrew, contamination is translated to זיהום Zihum and communication of disease is translated to הדבקה Had'baka (you can search for these two definitions here). For some unknown, mysterious reason, the translation of infection remains inconsistent as you will see in the following example.
Here's the sentence I found on the Hillel Yaffe website:
Additionally, after surgery the immune system is depressed and the chances of infection increase.
Here's the Arabic translation:
جهاز المناعة لدى المرضى الذين خضعوا لعمليات جراحية ضعيفة في أعقاب العملية ولهذا فهم في خطر محدق بتلقي عدوى (communication of disease).
Here's the Hebrew text:
לאחר ניתוח המערכת החיסונית יורדת ועולים הסיכויים ללקות בזיהומים (contamination).
The following sentence on this page asks visitors to shorten their visits and follow the instructions they receive from the staff. So, in this context infection relates to the communication of disease since it becomes necessary to limit exposure to other individuals. Regardless of the correct translation, it's obvious no single professional has ever assumed responsibility for the overall quality of the text on this hospital's website. If you need any other evidence, you can review how the immune system is described in each of the three languages: in English it's depressed, in Arabic it's weak, and in Hebrew – it drops. And no, this has nothing to do with localization.
Hospitals insist on getting the cheapest quotes from translation agencies and that is understandable, yet they cannot really expect to receive good translations. My experience so far with websites of hospitals in Israel clearly shows that in many cases the texts are not reviewed properly, or are not reviewed at all. This is to say that hospitals should consider working with independent reviewers to guarantee the content on their websites is professional and accurate. This is obvious, and hospitals may need some more time to realize that paying a reviewer will save them money later on. In the meantime, in the words of Tupac – that's just the way it is.