Coronavirus research is being carried out at top speed

Coronaviruses (colored transmission electron microscopy image).

© cdc/Dr. Fred Murphy & Sylvia Whitfield

Several confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus have now been reported in Germany. Pofessor Stephan Becker, virologist at the University of Marburg and coordinator of the DZIF research area “Emerging Infections” reports on the research work into the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which is underway at the DZIF.

People are worried. Could the coronavirus spread in Germany in the same way as it is spreading in China at the moment?

Professor Becker: We are quite well prepared for outbreaks such as the current coronavirus outbreak. We have already been able to implement a standard diagnostic test to reliably test for the novel coronavirus in patient materials. This enables rapid quarantine measures and treatment of patients in isolation units which can restrict the further spreading of the virus. This test was developed by DZIF scientists at Charité Berlin shortly after the outbreak in China. It enables a differential diagnosis to distinguish patients with coronavirus infection from flu cases. Since flu causes similar symptoms as the novel corona virus, such differentiation is important.

With flu, patients can get a vaccine and thus protect themselves from it. Is a vaccine in sight for coronavirus?

Professor Becker: We are currently working on a vaccine for the new coronavirus at the DZIF. As a result of the research that has been carried out on a MERS vaccine, also a coronavirus, we have a good basis for this work. Nevertheless, developing a vaccine takes much longer than a diagnostic test, meaning that this preventive measure will not be able to play a role in the current outbreak phase.

What is the situation with medication specifically designed to treat the new coronavirus?

Professor Becker: There is currently no medication available to specifically treating coronavirus. We are working with partners to develop therapeutic antibodies but it is important to note that these will not be available quickly. In the context of the current outbreak, it is very important to be consistent in observing hygiene measures which are always recommended. These include simple things such as frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as maintaining a healthy distance from people who are coughing.

You can find up-to-date information and behaviour rules concerning COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 here:

Word Health Organization (WHO)

European Centre for Desease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

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