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Bundesministerium für Gesundheit
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16:22 · 30. März 2021

Basic knowledge about coronavirus

What is COVID-19? Here you can find general information on modes of transmission, the origin of the virus as well as sickness symptoms. Inform and protect yourself.

COVID-19 is a disease that primarily affects the respiratory system. Additionally, symptoms can occur that are similar to a cold: coughing, fever, feeling unwell and tiredness. This is why it is not always easy to determine whether you have COVID-19, influenza or a cold.

What are coronaviruses and what exactly do COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 mean?

Coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The name “coronavirus” refers to the physical appearance of the virus under a microscope, which is reminiscent of a crown or wreath (the Latin word corona = crown). The novel coronavirus is described as “novel” because it refers to a new virus within the coronavirus family, which was first identified in December 2019. Since 11 February 2020, this virus that was provisionally called 2019-nCoV, has borne the name SARS-CoV-2. The acronym SARS in the name stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). 

How does the virus spread? 

Droplet infection is the virus’s main mode of transmission. When an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, he/she expels droplets containing viruses. These spread over a radius of approximately 1.5 metres before settling on surfaces. If other persons are in their vicinity, droplets can enter their mouth, nose and in some cases eyes, thereby causing them to become infected. The closer you are to the infected person, the more infectious droplets can reach you. The probability of infection is significantly smaller outside of this radius of at least1.5 metres.

The coronavirus can also be transmitted through aerosols. Aerosols are droplet nuclei that are suspended in the air and are smaller than 5 micrometres. When a person speaks, and especially when they laugh out loud or sing, these can be expelled and remain suspended in the air for a relatively long period of time. This is why rooms containing several people should be aired regularly. A “community mask” can offer added protection.

Transmission by means of smear infection, through contact between hands and the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or the conjunctiva of the eyes, is generally not excluded. Transmission via surfaces, particularly in the direct environment of infected persons, can also not be excluded. SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses have also been found in the stool of affected persons. However, whether SARS-CoV-2 can also be transmitted via stool has not yet been conclusively clarified.

How does one recognise symptoms and what action is to be taken in a suspected case? 

A COVID-19 infection can cause various symptoms. A dry cough and fever are among the most frequent. Difficult breathing, a cold, muscle and joint pain, a sore throat and headaches are also possible symptoms. Symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, swollen lymph nodes and drowsiness (somnolence) are reported less often. In many affected persons, the sense of smell and taste is temporarily impaired. In cases with a serious progression, affected persons develop pneumonia and need intensive care at a hospital. However, these symptoms and their manifestation vary from patient to patient.

Any person who has cold symptoms or other typical COVID-19 symptoms, or has had contact with a person who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, should phone his/her doctor or call 116 117. Infected persons should then remain at home in isolation for at least ten days and if possible have no contact with other persons. The competent public health office will decide when the isolation can be ended. 

On its website, the Robert Koch Institute offers an Orientation aid for citizens (available in German, English and French), which explains what is to be done in case of symptoms.

How does the disease progress?

In most cases, disease progression is mild; however, some cases are serious or even critical. In such a case, an infection with the novel coronavirus may affect not only the respiratory system, but also other organ systems. 

Thus far, complications and secondary diseases that have been observed include, alongside infections of the respiratory tract and pneumonias, diseases of the nervous system, the skin or the cardiovascular system. In individual cases, inflammatory diseases of the brain or the cerebral membrane also occurred that were possibly associated with COVID-19. Intestinal tract complaints or kidney diseases may also occur as secondary diseases. You can find further information on secondary diseases and complications at the website of the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) or that of the Robert Koch Institute.

Owing to the novelty of the clinical picture, no reliable statements can as yet be made on the long-term effects and possible sequelae of a COVID-19 infection.

Which groups are particularly at risk?

In principle, all persons with a weak immune system are exposed to a higher risk. When infected, older persons, in particular, can become more severely ill, as their immune system does not react as well. The risk of a severe outcome rises steadily from the age of 60. Additional risk factors that increase the probability of a severe progression are chronic respiratory or pulmonary diseases (such as COPD or asthma), coronary diseases, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes mellitus (sugar disease) or medicines that weaken the immune system (such as cortisone). 

If you are among those persons who are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill, you should pay special attention to the relevant rules of conduct (summed up by the DHM formula). You can also protect yourself by strengthening your immune system and ensuring that you have a balanced, healthy diet. Regular exercise also improves your immune system. 

There is no evidence thus far that pregnant women are at a higher risk of experiencing a more severe progression. However, transmission of the disease in the womb cannot be excluded.

Protection through the DHM formula!

Each and every one of us can do their part to halt the further spread of the novel coronavirus. A crucial component is the DHM formula: Maintain a distance (at least 1.5 metres), observe the hygiene rules (proper coughing, sneezing and hand washing) and wear a community mask (in close spaces). This formula is supplemented by A for App (the Corona-Warn-App helps to interrupt chains of infection) and A for airing. By observing these rules of conduct, we protect ourselves and others.