Coronavirus: This is how infections are discovered

Europe is experiencing its first major Covid-19 outbreak in Italy. In order to get a better overview of infections in Germany, doctors should also test for the new virus if they are suspected

Precautions in Italy, Casalpusterlengo: The poster in front of the bakery says in Italian "Warning, only four people in the shop at the same time"

© dpa Picture Alliance / Paolo Santalucia

The novel corona virus is spreading in Europe. Over 300 cases are known from Italy. Italy is the European country with the most recorded infections, and new infections have also been discovered in Austria, Croatia, Spain and Switzerland. Two more infections have been known in Germany since Tuesday.

Undiscovered cases in Germany?

In fact, SARS-CoV-2 could be more widespread than previously thought, said the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Andrea Ammon, of the dpa: "Our assessment is that we are likely to have similar situations in others Countries in Europe will see. " The high number of infections in Italy is also related to the fact that more was checked there. "The likelihood of uncovering cases depends on how much you test." After the first suspected cases, the residents in the affected zones were tested for the virus "a tappeto", almost across the board - including people who did not show any symptoms of the lung disease Covid-19.

Corona, COVID, SARS & Co: Many names, one virus

There is talk of the coronavirus or "novel coronavirus" in the media. Since there is more than one coronavirus, it was first called novel coronavirus 2019, or 2019-nCoV for short. Then the virus got the official name "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2). The name Covid-19 given by the WHO describes the lung disease that the virus causes.

In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute has reacted to the rapid changes of the last few days. On the one hand, it appeals to doctors to pay more attention to possible infections with the novel virus in patients. Symptoms include a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath, but these can also occur in other acute respiratory diseases. Patients should therefore also be asked about travel, Covid 19 risk areas in China or Italy. In addition, the RKI advises that the doctors should, if necessary, arrange for tests for the virus. The institute announced on Monday, February 24th.

At the European level, the ECDC is now recommending that hospitals test patients with mild or severe respiratory infections for the novel virus if they have either traveled to a risk area in the 14 days before the disease or have been in close contact with a patient with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 disease had.

Further monitoring with spot checks

In Germany, there is further monitoring with random samples. The Influenza Working Group at the RKI has so far mainly used the so-called sentinel system to monitor influenza viruses. For this purpose, nationwide patients with acute respiratory diseases are tested for influenza and cold viruses. Around 100 medical practices regularly send in throat swabs from patients with flu symptoms.

As the RKI also announced on Tuesday, the samples should now also take into account the new type of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. "The integration of SARS-CoV-2 serves a better assessment of the epidemiological situation," says the spokeswoman for the RKI, Susanne Glasmacher. The results of the analyzes are usually published on the institute's website one week later. The publication of any newly discovered infections with SARS-CoV-2 there is also planned.

This is how virus monitoring works: The Sentinel system

Infections with the flu virus have been recorded in Germany since 2006 by the Influenza Working Group with a so-called sentinel system. 800 family doctor practices volunteer there, together with the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin (RKI). The practices report cases of so-called acute respiratory diseases to the RKI on a weekly basis. Around 100 medical practices also regularly send in throat swabs from patients with flu symptoms.

The samples are checked for various viruses that can cause flu or other acute respiratory diseases such as colds. These include the influenza viruses, syncytial viruses, parainfluenza viruses and human metapneumoviruses currently in circulation. The reference center is currently analyzing around 180 samples per week, and the results are usually published one week later on the working group's website - always between the 40th and 20th calendar week.

With the help of these surveys and other data sources, conclusions can be drawn about the entire flu activity in Germany. In addition, conclusions can be drawn about the circulating influenza viruses from the laboratory results. The data thus serve, among other things, as a basis for developing the flu vaccines for the coming flu season.