FAQ about the novel coronavirus
What are coronaviruses, what are the symptoms, and for whom is it particularly dangerous? We answer frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus.
What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses can infect both humans and various animal species and were first discovered in the mid-1960s. Today, hundreds of types of coronaviruses are known which, depending on the variant of the virus, can cause common colds and even life-threatening diseases in humans. The SARS and MERS coronaviruses were among the particularly pathogenic virus variants which have already triggered epidemics in the past.
The current novel coronavirus, called Sars-CoV-2 or COVID-19 and which is genetically closely related to the SARS virus, can cause lung disease. As far as the origin is concerned, it is assumed that the first patients were infected at a market in Wuhan in early December 2019.
What are the symptoms of an infection with coronaviruses?
Common coronaviruses usually cause coughing and other problems with respiratory symptoms. The initial symptoms are similar to those of influenza. The new coronavirus only affects the lower respiratory tract and that is why these viruses do not cause a cold. However, other coronaviruses can also cause severe infections of the lower respiratory tract and lead to pneumonia. The new coronavirus seems to lead to a more severe form of disease.
For whom is the new coronavirus, Sars-CoV-2 or COVID-19, particularly dangerous?
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), people over the age of 60 and people with existing diseases have the highest risk of developing a serious illness. High-risk diseases include, for example, chronic cardiovascular diseases and lung or metabolic diseases. Most deaths in China have occurred among people over 80 years, men being more frequently affected than women. The WHO reports that the disease occurs comparatively rarely in children and is usually mild. Only a very small proportion of infected children and adolescents have been seriously or critically ill until now. However, there is still insufficient data to determine whether children are generally less susceptible to the virus or not. According to the WHO, pregnant women do not appear to have an increased risk of a higher severity due to this virus.
How can one become infected with COVID-19?
The authorities in China initially reported that the patients had all picked up the infection at an animal market. The coronaviruses are found predominantly in the animal world. Initially, however, they did not believe that transmission to humans was possible.
In the meantime, it is believed that the droplet infection from person to person is one of the most common ways. Therefore, the hygiene measures recommended for influenza, flu, should be followed. In addition, the new coronavirus has also been found in stool samples of some of the affected. However, according to the Robert Koch Institute, a possibility of faecal-oral transmission of Sars-CoV-2 has not yet been conclusively established.
How can we protect ourselves effectively?
Coronaviruses are transmitted through droplets. If secretion from the nasopharynx gets onto objects such as door handles or light switches, the viruses can survive for several days. However, coronaviruses have not yet been known to infect objects. A basic surface disinfection in one's own house is usually not necessary, but can be useful, just like hand disinfection if there are sick people in the house. Otherwise thoroughly washing your hands with soap is sufficient.
There are numerous disinfectants, but not every disinfectant is effective against coronaviruses. It is not enough if it says that it kills 99 percent of all bacteria. The protection against viruses must be explicitly mentioned. The Robert Koch Institute provides an overview of tested disinfectants and their application. There are three categories. The first category is "limited virucidal", the second "limited virucidal PLUS" and the third "simple virucidal". For coronaviruses, the lowest variant, i.e. "limited virucidal", is enough. Agents for surface disinfection against coronaviruses contain e.g. formaldehyde or other aldehydes. When disinfecting surfaces, it is important to ensure that the disinfectant solution is used in a sufficiently concentrated form. Alcoholic solutions are used for hand disinfection. For this purpose, one should take at least three millilitres of disinfectant, spread it completely on the palms of the hands and leave it to act for 30 seconds and let it dry in air. In addition to good hand hygiene, one should also keep a distance from people coughing or sneezing.
Those infected should sneeze and cough into the crook of their arm in order to protect others. Anyone with a cold should always follow this procedure. This also means that used paper handkerchiefs should not be simply thrown into the open waste bin, but should be collected, for example, in a sealable plastic bag and then disposed of.
Will the health insurance companies cover the coronavirus test?
Doctors can now request laboratory proof of the virus from certain patients who fulfil the Robert Koch Institute's criteria for suspected cases, at the expense of the statutory health insurance. This has been agreed upon by the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians and the GKV central association.
According to the RKI, a suspected case / case of illness is
- anyone with respiratory symptoms AND contact with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus
- according to the RKI, an acute respiratory syndrome with the suspicion that the lower respiratory tract is affected. This is sufficient as a clinical diagnosis. A fever or cough does not necessarily have to be there. If you are unsure whether your own respiratory tract infection might be due to the new coronavirus, health experts recommend that you consult a doctor who will decide on the further course of action. Doctors do not consider it necessary to carry out a test only on a patient's vague suspicion if the patient has not been in the risk area recently or has not had contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.
Who offers the rapid test for the coronavirus?
The rapid test was developed in the Berlin Charité hospital. The test is usually a throat swab or the secretion from the patient's cough. In the meantime, the test is no longer only available at the Charité, but also at university hospitals and in special laboratories. Work is also in progress for an industrially manufactured test.
What should you take care of if you have recently been in a corona region?
Anyone who has recently spent time in a region with confirmed cases of the new lung disease caused by coronaviruses should also continue observing, after returning home, if they experience any symptoms of cold, cough or flu. If this is the case, you should contact a doctor, by telephone to be on the safer side, and point out that you have been in a coronavirus region.
You should also remember that the incubation period is up to 14 days. The outbreak of the disease can therefore occur even if you have been back home for a while. If possible, one should also avoid physical proximity to other people for the incubation period, because the viruses can be passed on even if no symptoms have appeared yet.
What is the situation worldwide and how great is the danger for Germany?
You can read the daily updates about the spread of the virus, including the number of cases worldwide and in Germany on the Robert Koch Institute website at any time. The World Health Organisation offers current information in English.
How is the treatment for COVID-19 infections?
There is currently no specific cure for the virus. Depending on the severity of the disease, there are supportive measures such as administration of oxygen, adjusting the fluid balance and administration of antibiotics in case there are additional bacterial infections. Not all cases become severe after COVID-19 infection. In the cases that have occurred in Germany, cold symptoms have so far been the focus.
Is the income loss compensated if one is put under quarantine?
If an employee is put under quarantine, he or she is entitled to financial compensation under the Infection Protection Act. The employer pays the loss of earnings for the first six weeks. From the seventh week of quarantine, compensation to a maximum amount equal to the sick pay is paid. However, the person concerned should send an application to the responsible state authority for this to be paid.
If a self-employed person is put under quarantine, he must apply directly to the responsible state authority for compensation of the loss of earnings. The amount of loss of earnings is calculated differently: It is based on one-twelfth of the income from the activity for which the compensation is due. In the event of a threat to the existence of the insured person, additional expenses incurred can be reimbursed to an appropriate extent by the competent authorities upon application. Self-employed persons whose business or practice is suspended during the quarantine period may also, upon application, receive compensation from the competent authority for business expenses incurred during this period.
Is a face mask useful?
In Germany, wearing masks over the mouth area to protect against infections makes little sense. The presence of these viruses in the environment is far too low for masks to provide real protection. An effective guard must meet certain requirements, like the permeability of the particles etc.
If you still want to wear a mask, you should make sure to change it several times a day. The mask loses its function as soon as it gets wet. However, if you want to protect your environment from your own infection, a mask prevents virus-laden saliva droplets from flying far off through the air you exhale.