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A page by the Federal Ministry of Health

Bundesministerium für Gesundheit
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Basic information on the coronavirus

Here you will find basic information on the novel coronavirus - on transmission, type and origin of the virus and the current state of research.

General Questions

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 or wreath). Coronaviruses can infect humans or animals. A number of colds and flu-like infections among humans are caused by coronaviruses. In rare cases, coronaviruses, which before had only infected animals, can jump to humans, where they continue to spread and also lead to severe illness. This was the case with previous SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks, and it is the same with the novel coronavirus. 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. This virus, which had provisionally been known as 2019-nCoV, was given a new name on 11 February 2020: 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).

It is believed that the current coronavirus pandemic stems from Asian bats, there is as yet no concrete proof, however. It is unclear whether the virus was transmitted from a bat to a human directly or whether the virus was transmitted from bats to human via another animal species. On current knowledge, the first people got infected at a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where wild animals and organs of other animals and reptiles were also sold. The first infections were made public in December 2019. According to the latest information, our indigenous bats play no role in the current coronavirus epidemic. There is therefore no reason to hunt these strictly protected species, to chase them out of apartment buildings or destroy their habitats. Direct contact between bats and humans per se is extremely rare. It cannot be ruled out that the pathogen is carried into our indigenous bat populations through infected humans. Additional details can be found in the information leaflet on indigenous bats and SARS-CoV-2 ("Einheimische Fledermäuse und SARS-CoV-2“), see https://www.deutsche-fledermauswarte.org/fledermaeus-und-sars-cov-2.

Although the incubation period may last up to 14 days, it is only 5-6 days on average.

People from any age group may get infected and fall ill. People especially at risk of severe illness include persons of senior age (60+) as well as those already suffering from underlying diseases.

Current research shows that anyone in any age group can become infected with Covid-19 and consequently play just as large a role in transmitting the virus. However, so far, the existing data shows that among healthy children (those without chronic pre-existing conditions) a severe progression is highly unlikely.

As far as is known so far, the risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus is about the same for men and women. There are indications, however, that men are more likely to have severe cases than men. Not enough is yet known about the causes of this. Experts surmise that social norms and lifestyles differences may contribute.

No. People with pollen allergies do not have a reduced immune function. Their body’s ability to fend off bacteria and viruses is normal; they are not immunocompromised. People with hay fever experience an increased immune reaction to pollen in the air. People with pollen allergies should continue their hay fever medications and not stop taking the respective drugs.

There is no evidence that rising temperatures will help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The novel coronavirus is now found in almost all countries of the world – even in countries of the southern hemisphere that have a similar climate to Germany during its summer months. However, people behave differently when the weather is warmer. Rather than spending time in unventilated closed spaces, they prefer to be outside, at a distance. This could contribute toward the novel coronavirus spreading somewhat slower during the summer months.

The German healthcare system is one of the best in Europe. Germany continues to implement measures to combat the spread of the disease. To keep the burden on the healthcare system as low as possible and make sure that severely ill patients can be properly treated, it is vital that the spread of the novel coronavirus be slowed as far as possible. The most important rule in all areas remains adhering to the minimum distance of 1.5 metres from other people. In addition, you are still required to follow the hygiene rules (proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, washing hands) and wear a non-medical face mask or “community mask” (DHM formula).

Furthermore, the Laender have introduced a rule on wearing non-medical face masks, so-called “community masks”, when shopping or using public transport.

Rules on wearing face masks may differ from region to region, so please familiarise yourself with the rules in force where you are. Details on the regulations can be found on each Bundesland’s government website.

Potential modes of transmission

Studies indicate that the novel coronavirus can also be transmitted through aerosols. Aerosols are droplet nuclei, smaller than five micrometres in size, which are expelled even when speaking normally, but more so when singing or laughing and speaking loudly. These droplet nuclei can remain suspended in the air over longer periods of time and may potentially transmit viruses. Rooms containing several people should therefore be ventilated regularly. A “community mask” can also offer added protection.

To avoid airborne transmission of coronavirus, rooms containing multiple people need to be ventilated regularly. Carrying a community mask can help minimise the risk of transmission when multiple people meet in enclosed rooms. Where possible, you should maintain the minimum distance of 1.5 metres from other people.

In some cases, the virus was detected in human faeces. The current evidence suggests, however, that transmissions through the faeces by way of smear infection are very rare. The virus is currently considered to spread mainly by way of droplet infection or smear infection of airway secretions through the hands as well as aerosols. The water cycle does not play a role in the spreading of the virus.

No, it is highly unlikely that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted via drinking water taken from the tap. Tap water can be drunk without hesitation. In Germany, a multi-stage water treatment process is used to remove pathogens and pollutants from drinking water.

We know that coronaviruses can survive on inanimate surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic over a certain period of time. Their stability in the environment depends on many factors such as temperature, humidity and surface texture. In order to protect yourself from virus transmission via contaminated surfaces, it is important to follow the hygiene rules such as regular hand washing and keeping your hands away from your face.

There is also a high risk of infection during sex, because the probability of transmission increases if you are closer than 1.5 metres to a person who is infected with the new coronavirus. There is also a high risk when kissing, because saliva is exchanged. Here you can find further information.

There is, as yet, no indication that pets can transmit the novel coronavirus. The decisive factor in the transmission of this virus is human-to-human contact. According to the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut’s present information, healthy people therefore need not limit their contact with pets. However, as a general safety precaution, it is still advisable to follow basic hygiene principles when in contact with animals, such as thoroughly washing your hands with soap. Depending on the species, it cannot be excluded altogether that pets could get infected by humans. People who have been infected should therefore pay particular attention to hygiene when in contact with their pets, should try to avoid close contact, not cough or sneeze at their pets and not let the pets lick their faces. More information is available from the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut’s website:

https://www.fli.de/de/aktuelles/tierseuchengeschehen/coronavirus/

According to the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, when a pet owner becomes infected their pets can and should remain in the household. General hygiene rules such as handwashing before and after contact with animals should be followed at all costs. People who have been infected should generally avoid close contact with their pets. Furthermore, people in quarantine should ask their friends and acquaintances to help take care of the pets. This, for instance, also includes taking your dog for a walk. Cats should, where possible, not leave the house over the duration of this quarantine. Further information can be found on the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut’s website:

https://www.fli.de/de/aktuelles/tierseuchengeschehen/coronavirus/

Vaccination

In Germany, too, intensive efforts to develop a vaccine are already under way. Experts believe it will take about 12 months until a safe vaccine will reach the market.

When developing a vaccine, the virus must first be carefully examined. It is then determined which components of the virus and which additional substances must be considered in making the vaccine. The vaccine is first tested on animals and then in a multi-phase process it is tested on human volunteers as part of clinical trials. If the trials are successful, an approval process can begin. If this is also successful, the vaccine can be mass produced and marketed. Although the novel coronavirus was only first detected in December 2019, several vaccine projects are already quite advanced. But is unlikely that a usable vaccine will be available and approved this year.

Companies and research institutes are currently working intensively on a Covid-19 vaccine that would stop any further spread of the disease. According to prevailing pharmaceutical law, a vaccine can only be approved when it has been demonstrated to be both effective and well-tolerated. That proof must be provided by the producer in pre-clinical research and clinical trials. In Germany, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) is the responsible federal authority for vaccines and biomedicines. The PEI issued the first license allowing clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine on 22 April 2020.

Developments and case numbers

Please check the regulations that apply in your Bundesland by using its official sources, such as the website of your Land Government:

The data on confirmed COVID-19 cases shown in the reports are gathered throughout Germany and submitted to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) according to standardised criteria. As required by the Protection against Infection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz), health offices submit their data to the competent Land authority no later than the next working day, from where they are transmitted to the RKI. In the current situation, most offices even submit their data on a daily basis. The Robert Koch Institute only publishes cases where, independent of clinical signs and symptoms, diagnoses have been confirmed with laboratory testing. The RKI updates its data once daily at midnight. On account of data entry and transfer, there is a delay between the time a case is first recorded and when it is published by the RKI, which means that case numbers can deviate from those of other sources.

The Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) rely on different sources for their data. The JHU reports are based on internet research, taking into account a variety of sources (incl. authorities, media reports, social media). This way, numbers can be gathered quickly. The RKI only uses official data reported by the health offices. These data are validated and contain information on the regional distribution, age, gender, symptoms, etc. The validation can take some time. To make decisions regarding the protection against infections, however, high-quality data are essential.

The reproduction number R shows how many people an infected person infects. It cannot be used as a measure to assess the effectiveness of measures. Among other things, the absolute number of new infections must be small enough to ensure intensive care capacities are not over-stretched. When a pandemic begins, the R number is R0. That shows how many people an infected person infects when none of the population is immune, there is no vaccine available and no measures have been taken to stem the spread of the infection. With the novel coronavirus, R0 lay between 2.4 and 3.3, meaning that on average each infected person infected somewhere between slightly more than two and slightly more than three people. Without protective measures, the number of infections would have risen exponentially. Such measures can reduce the reproduction rate. In other words: When R is greater than 1, the daily number of new infections rises. When R equals 1, the daily number of new infections remains constant. When R is less than 1, the daily number of new infections sinks. With the novel coronavirus, the aim is to keep the reproduction rate stable at below 1. Further information is available from the: Robert Koch Institute.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Whether unborn children in the womb can become infected has not been clarified so far. In most cases, children whose mothers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus during pregnancy show no signs of infection when they are born. There are no indications of miscarriages being caused by the coronavirus. Pregnant mothers should, however, protect themselves against infection and follow the prevailing behavioural rules with the greatest of care (e.g. keeping a distance of 1.5 metres from others, following the coughing and sneezing etiquette, and practicing good hand hygiene). If a pregnant mother is infected, she could transmit the infection to her new-born child via close contact or respiratory droplets.

Despite the current access restrictions in hospitals, pregnant mothers may take an accompanying person with them into the delivery room. An accompanying person may also stay with the mother in the initial hours following the birth. On the maternity ward, visitors are not generally allowed. The rules may differ, however, depending on the region concerned. Please familiarise yourself with the provisions in place where you live.

Up to now there are no reports of the novel coronavirus being found in breast milk. It is thus assumed that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of infection. If a mother is infected, she could transmit the infection to her new-born child via close contact or respiratory droplets. Mothers who suspect they are infected with the novel coronavirus should thus adhere to the hygiene rules, wash their hands frequently and cover their mouth and nose with a mask.