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New infections every day: How high is the risk of the coronavirus spreading?

Berlin (dpa) - After new evidence of infection with the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus became known, hope has faded to keep the lung disease out of Germany. What is being done to contain the spread and what is known about the virus and the disease?

How high is the risk of further spread in Germany?

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a further import of cases to Germany must be expected. Further transmissions of Sars-CoV-2, chains of infection and outbreaks in the country are also possible. Local infections could initially remain undetected, said the Vice President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lars Schaade, on Wednesday in the RBB. It is "quite possible that we do not recognize all of these outbreaks immediately". One must expect that this will lead to further spread. The experts currently estimate the risk to the health of the population in Germany to be low to moderate.

What would a major outbreak in Germany mean for the health system?

A wave of infections in this country could mean, among other things, full waiting areas and doctor's offices, occupied intensive care beds and completely overloaded health departments, the Berlin virologist Christian Drosten recently explained. Experts see it as problematic that the annual flu wave is currently rolling through Germany - and the health system is already putting a heavy strain on the health system. For this reason, the goal is to delay the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, as the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recently explained. "We have to try with reasonable effort to slow the spread in order to alleviate an intense stress pulse on the health system," said Drosten. "The number of infections should be extended over as long as possible."

How contagious is the new coronavirus?

A value of how many other people an infected person infects on average can still not be given with certainty. The virus spreads through droplet infection, for example when coughing and speaking. Initial results indicate that the virus can also be spread via the digestive system and surfaces for at least a few days. A previously underestimated risk is that "quite relevant amounts" of Sars-CoV-2 can be detected in stool samples from patients in the initial phase of a Covid-19 disease, according to Clemens Wendtner, chief physician for infectious diseases and tropical medicine at the Munich Clinic Schwabing , explained.

How dangerous is the virus?

That is still a difficult question. The RKI says that there are currently not enough data for a final assessment of the severity of the new respiratory disease. According to an analysis recently presented by China's health authority, 2.3 percent of those infected with Sars-CoV-2 die in the country. The elderly and those with serious pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are particularly affected. For people over 80 years of age, the death rate calculated from the data available there is just under 15 percent, so an average of around 15 out of 100 infected people in this age group in China die. In the group of 10 to 39 year olds, 0.2 percent of those infected die, i.e. around 2 out of 1,000 people affected.

Experts assume that the mortality is actually lower than calculated in China, among other things because many mild infections are not recorded in the Chinese statistics. So far, however, there are no reliable analyzes of mortality from other countries.

What symptoms does the new coronavirus cause?

Most people have only mild cold symptoms with chills and a sore throat or no symptoms at all. In addition, there can be a fever, cough and breathing problems, as they also occur with the flu. Headaches or diarrhea are also possible.

According to the Chinese health authority, more than 80 percent of those infected have a mild course of infection, and almost 14 percent become seriously ill. Almost five percent have life-threatening effects such as respiratory arrest, septic shock or multiple organ failure.

The incubation period - the period between infection and the onset of symptoms - is usually 2 to 14 days according to the current status. That is why suspected cases are isolated for two weeks.

How can the new lung disease be treated?

There is no special therapy for Covid-19. Seriously ill patients are treated symptomatically: with antipyretic agents, therapy for any additional bacterial infections and sometimes mechanical ventilation. In individual cases, antiviral drugs are also tested.

Is there a protective vaccination?

No. A number of laboratories around the world are currently researching vaccines such as those available for flu. However, developing a vaccine takes a long time. WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan believes the first vaccine tests on humans could begin in three to four months. A certified vaccine for widespread use will probably only be available in 18 months.

The US biotech company Moderna reported on Monday that it had developed a vaccine candidate and delivered it to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Its director Anthony Fauci announced the first clinical studies for the end of April, according to CNN. He also calculated that it would take one to a year and a half before a vaccine is available.

How else can I protect myself from infection?

To protect against this and other viruses, experts recommend normal hygiene measures: regular hand washing, disinfectants and distance from the sick. Experts estimate that the benefits of normal breathing masks - as can currently be seen on the streets in China and other countries - are rather low. It can help to limit hugs and handshakes and not to touch surfaces that have been touched by many people, such as doorknobs, grab handles and elevator buttons.

Can I get infected if I get a package from China or other risk areas?

In principle, it is unclear how long the virus will survive on surfaces, says the World Health Organization. Studies suggested that it could be a few hours or days, depending on conditions such as surface, temperature or humidity. The authority rates the probability that an infected person contaminates goods with the virus as low. The risk of a recipient being infected by a parcel that is exposed to different conditions and temperatures during transport is also low.

Imported food and goods such as toys, computers or clothing are also unlikely sources of infection, says the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. Experts emphasize the importance of observing general hygiene rules, such as washing your hands regularly.

What do I do if I fear that I have been infected?

According to the RKI, anyone who has had contact with an infected person should first contact their health department, regardless of whether symptoms have occurred or not. Travelers from risk areas who have symptoms should consult a doctor after making an appointment by telephone with reference to the trip.

What is the state allowed to do in an emergency?

The essentials are regulated by the nationwide Infection Protection Act (IfSG). A spokesman for the Bavarian Ministry of Health summarized: "If necessary, important basic rights such as freedom of the person, freedom of assembly or inviolability of the home as well as the right to physical integrity can be restricted." According to the Bayreuth constitutional lawyer Stephan Rixen, authorities are allowed to demand blood samples and swabs from the skin and mucous membranes. Also "suspects of illness" and "suspects of contagion" - as the law puts it - can be banned from practicing their profession. To protect others, people could also be "isolated in a suitable hospital or in some other suitable manner," says the law.

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