Coronavirus: All You Should Know About It And How To Protect Yourself

by Mehdi BAH

What is the new corona virus?

On New Year’s Eve, Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about an accumulation of pneumonia with an unclear cause. The infected came from Wuhan, a metropolis with around 11 million inhabitants. About a week later, the cause was identified: a new type of coronavirus. It is called SARS-CoV-2. Initially, the virus only spread to China, but the WHO has now declared an international health emergency – because there are more and more cases worldwide. In Italy, some cities are completely sealed off, and the number of infected people is also increasing in Germany.

Many assessments preliminary

The information on the new coronavirus is currently changing at a rapid pace, so current assessments should always be viewed as preliminary. Questions that are currently being determined under high pressure: How easily can the virus infect people, what symptoms develop infected (and how quickly), how easy is the pathogen transmitted from person to person – and how dangerous is the novel virus compared to previous outbreaks like SARS or MERS?

How is the new coronavirus transmitted?

Coronaviruse are often zoophytic. That means: They circulate in animals and then mutate in such a way that they can jump from animals to humans. the animal-to-human transmission also appears very likely with SARS-CoV-2. The majority of the cases observed so far can be traced back to a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where live and dead animals were sold. The exact origin of the virus is, however, contrary to what is often claimed, still unknown.

“There is nothing secure,” summarizes Prof. Christian Drosten, Director of the Virology Institute at the Berlin Charity. “What is certain is that the ecological reservoir of all these coronaviruse is certain bat species, the horseshoe bat. However, this virus, like other such viruses, is likely to have intermediate hosts. ” From which intermediate host the virus has spread to humans is not yet known.

A virus can also migrate from person to person

Exactly how to infect other people is still being researched. The coronaviruses are probably mainly passed on via a droplet and contact infection – i.e. through direct coughing up or physical contact with a sick person. Pure airborne transmission has not been proven so far.

For a long time, it was assumed that the receptor of the coronavirus occurs primarily in the deep airways – this is the case with SARS. To become infected (and to pass the virus on), it would have to be inhaled into the lungs. “In other words, it’s a long way from the lung to lung,” says Christian Drosten. “But this virus succeeds in actively multiplying the throat, which is a big difference to SARS.” Conclusion: infection is much faster.

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Easier to transfer than expected

“It has become clear in the past few days that the virus is more easily transmitted than was thought at the start of the outbreak. This is shown by the case numbers, but also by the scientific publications on the calculation of the basic reproduction rate. It is about as high as that of the SARS coronavirus from 2003 ″, says Prof. Lars Schaade, Vice President and Head of the Center for Biological Hazards and Special Pathogens from the Robert Koch Institute.

Based on this basic reproduction rate R 0, researchers are currently trying to determine how the epidemic could develop. It indicates the number of people infected on average by an infected person. However, the estimates differ widely here – from 1.5 to slightly above 5. Concrete forecasts are therefore difficult.

How dangerous is the corona virus?

The coronavirus causes symptoms of very different degrees: from a rather harmless cold to the typical signs of viral pneumonia – fever with cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, muscle pain and fatigue. Headaches or sputum are less common. While the virus has so far only appeared as a common cold, we have seen many serious illnesses from China.

“We know that children are practically not affected. Pregnant women are probably not particularly affected, ”explains Prof. Christian Drosten the current status.“ We also know that the special risk group is older patients – and there is an emphasis on the male gender. ” And: A large part of the deceased already had an impaired immune system or was very old.

The number of cases is increasing steadily

The numbers soared abruptly in the short term since people with symptoms of illness who have not yet been tested have also been recorded in China. The number of undetected infections could still be significantly higher.

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Is there already a therapy?

No. There are as yet no suitable means to combat the corona viruses. A study that started shortly after the outbreak is now testing a combination of agents that have shown potential benefits for the SARS virus. There are no results yet. A vaccine is also being researched. The scientists do not have to start all over again: the SARS virus has already had its first developments. Only the vaccines did not finish developing – when the outbreak of the disease was stopped, the research ended.

A vaccine will be tested in a clinical trial in China at the end of April. However, experts estimate that it will probably take a year before a vaccine against the new virus is developed and tested.

How do you prevent the virus from spreading further?

The most drastic measure: sealing off entire cities. Not only in China – in Italy, too, but some villages are also now isolated, public institutions are closed. The aim is to prevent the virus from spreading beyond the local focus of infection as far as possible.

This is done in Germany:

The virus had initially spread unnoticed in Italy. To avoid this, the Robert Koch Institute is now carrying out random tests in doctor’s offices – in addition to the targeted tests for suspected cases, people with respiratory diseases are now being randomly tested for the new coronavirus. Otherwise, the spread of seasonal flu is documented.

The current focus is to limit the spread of the virus as far as possible – and to break the chain of infection. An attempt is made to identify and isolate all contacts of infected people. “This can at least slow down the spread, which opens up time for further countermeasures,” said Timo Ulrichs, professor of global health at the Acre University for Human Sciences in Berlin. “At best, the local outbreak can be contained and wiped out this way. With only one or less affected regions, something like this is possible if there are many outbreaks at the same time, unfortunately not anymore. “

Because spreading becomes difficult to contain when infection routes are no longer manageable. Just like in Italy. If this is also the case for us, the Robert Koch Institute advises that the protective measures be concentrated particularly on people at high risk – these are primarily older people and people with previous illnesses.

Prevent the uncontrolled global spread

Also, since the beginning of the Corona outbreak, measures have been taken to curb further global expansion:

For example, some airlines have stopped their flights to and from China for the time being. Lufthansa and British Airways, for example, no longer fly to mainland China.

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Another attempt is entry screening at airports. Using thermal imaging cameras, incoming travelers are examined to determine whether they may have a fever. However, a 2015 study concluded that this measure was not very effective.

In Singapore in 2009, out of 116 swine fever infections, only 15 were discovered at the airport. In Japan, only 10 out of 151 travelers with swine fever were filtered out. The problem with this is that travelers can already be infected and carry the virus without developing symptoms such as fever.

It makes more sense: exit screenings, i.e. checks when leaving the country. The WHO recommends such exit controls for all countries where the virus has broken out. The WHO has declared an international health emergency for the coronavirus. That means: The member countries have to coordinate their measures against the spread of the virus among themselves.

What can I do personally?

Because the flu season is just starting at the same time, symptoms similar to those caused by the coronavirus can occur sudden fever, fatigue, dry cough, shortness of breath. So there is a risk that patients with “ordinary” influenza may mistakenly go to an isolated hospital because they are mistaken for coronavirus patients. In Germany, there were already some suspected coronavirus cases, which in the end turned out to be influenza viruses.

To avoid unnecessary suspected cases or even double infections, the WHO and the Robert Koch Institute recommend vaccinations against flu, whooping cough, and pneumococci. This applies above all to people from risk groups, i.e. people aged 60 and over, pregnant women from the second trimester, people with chronic illnesses (such as cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases or diabetes), residents of old people’s homes and nursing homes and people with a strong professional background increased risk of infection – such as medical personnel.

People in these high-risk groups have a significantly higher risk that the flu will be severe or even fatal because their immune systems can be more susceptible to infections. Important: People who do not belong to this risk group – such as healthy children – experts advise against vaccination!

It is imperative to observe the hygiene rules

Coronaviruses can be passed on by droplet infection – by sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. The viruses can also get onto surfaces, get into the mucous membranes by smear infection via the hands – and infect other people.

It is therefore important:

  • Wash your hands regularly: at least 20 seconds with soap up to the wrist
  • sneeze or cough in the crook of the arm, not in the hand
  • don’t shake hands, instead, give your elbows
  • Hold your face as little as possible, do not touch your mucous membranes on your face (mouth, eyes, nose)
  • Do not press the buttons in the elevator with your finger, rather with your ankle
  • ventilate well
  • avoid crowded rooms and crowds

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