at the moment we can enjoy a quite calm time in Germany regarding the Corona pandemic. This gives us the opportunity to recover from the stress, enjoy the nice weather and finally meet again with friends – of course in compliance with safety rules (find more on CDC.gov).
In case there will be an increase of cases this autumn, our motivation to isolate ourselves again will certainly be better if we will have used this summer as well as possible. For psychological reasons I therefore regard it as very important to allow oneself this little break from the pandemic.
Today I would like to address these topics:
- Corona warning app (in Germany)
- Face masks
There is still no ground-breaking news about vaccines, antiviral drugs, antibody tests and antigen tests. Results simply need time. Also there is currently no evidence of a crucial influence of virus mutations (see original article) and the blood group of patients (see original article).
Success of lockdown measures in plain numbers
For us all the lockdown has been a difficult time in psychological and economic terms. We all have avoided many coronavirus infections and thus saved lives. Meanwhile there are adequate mathematical models to calculate how many infections would have taken place if the lockdown hadn’t happened.
A recent study (see below) looked at the situation in the following countries: China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, USA. It shows that an additional number of probably 530 million people would have been infected with the coronavirus if the lockdown hadn’t taken place (in comparison to 3 million infections in all six countries at present time).
This illustrates and emphasizes how important lockdown measures have been. (Original article)
since Tuesday the „Corona-warning-app“ („Corona-warn-app“) is ready for download. This application for smartphones is meant to warn the user after close contact with people within the previous two weeks who have registered themselves as Corona positive. In such a case the user can put himself into a voluntary quarantine.
The application is sufficiently safe regarding data protection (see article at heise.de). The source code (the „programming“) is open source so every expert can look at details and functions. Please find instructions of use at heise.de.
This app gives the population the chance to get local outbreaks quickly under control without the need for extensive restrictions and lockdowns.
The recent outbreak in a meat processing factory near Gütersloh could probably have been stopped much earlier with such an app and might have avoided infecting over 1000 people.
Thus, I recommend the use of this app and of course installed it on my personal smartphone. There is good scientific evidence for the advantages of such an app (see original article).
You can download the app here.
today I would like to address these topics:
- Current situation of the corona pandemic in Germany
- Presentation of information by the media
- „R value“ and comparing corona virus with influenza
- The COVID-19 infection – what do we now yet?
Science is a slow process that needs time and patience. But the media needs fast information and sensation, otherwise they might be ignored. This contrast leads to the misunderstanding that there are conflicting recommendations following each other in a short time.
Therefore, I recommend not to take every little news as confirmed knowledge but to wait until facts from trials confirm or contradict that information.
Nevertheless I would like to stress that it makes sense to get your information from trustworthy main stream media and newspapers. Please do not turn away from that media and get your information from self-pointed “gurus” on YouTube or rumours on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc. This will only lead you astray. You might also ask someone on the street how to treat corona virus.
Please find reliable information here:
I would like to talk about several topics today:
Staying smart in the pandemic
In an exceptional situation as this Corona pandemic it is of utmost importance to keep a cool head, use our brain and get our information from safe sources: from experts.
This is the best way to manage our lives in such times since it will last on until a vaccine will be available. Neither panic nor negation are helpful.
How to know where the virus comes from?
Every virus has its genetic fingerprint. If the fingerprints of the Corona virus in different countries worldwide is being compared with the ones found in different animals, the source can be identified.
Such fingerprints are shown on the diagram. The green line shows a virus endemic in bats, the red line shows the worldwide pandemic virus in humans. As you can see, the fingerprints of those two viruses are mostly identical. Little differences are normal since viruses change in their cycle of propagation.
Thus the origin of the virus can be regarded as identified.
Is Corona really that “bad”?
Numbers are abstract, it’s difficult to have an image in your mind. Therefore, let me give you a report from real life: I receive reports from befriended physicians in the Rhein-Main area, Germany and the whole of Europe. They are on the “front line”, working in hospitals, partly on intensive care. I studied with many of them and know their competence and reliability.
All of them tell me that the current situation is much different from what we know of past years and decades of influenza and other epidemics. Depending on the region they live in, there is a much higher flow-in of patients. Capacities are partly under stress (Germany), but partly medical care is not possible anymore for all incoming patients (London). A makeshift hospital with 4000 beds had to be built. (Article on Business-Insider).
COVID-19 patients are much longer on intensive care and ventilated longer that those with an influenza or common pneumonia, thus capacities of beds and respirators are blocked longer than usually.
There are antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonias and Oseltamivir to treat influenza, but with SARS-CoV-2 (“Corona”) there is no comparably efficient drug. Doctors can only wait and hope.
A befriended married couple of doctors in London sends me dramatic reports. The inflow of patients is extremely high, a normal medical care is not possible anymore. There aren’t enough beds, respirators, medical staff.
When she (internist) tells me that three nurses known to her in the age of mid-fifties died in her hospital and another six nurses and physicians survived on intensive care, there is no doubt to me that the situation is very serious and we don’t ask too much from people to simply wear masks.
It would prove fatal to believe that this couldn’t happen to Germany. We can be thankful that doctors and politicians acted much earlier than in the United Kingdom or the US where the existence of a threat had been doubted in highest positions in politics even when the pandemic was already fully running. Consequences are obvious: Those two countries have witnessed a sheer explosion of infections while in Germany there are “only” minor outbreaks.
The whole world is lucky that Corona is “only” as bad as a “severe influenza without a vaccine”. If we had to deal with an Ebola pandemic, our masks would prove more or less useless and mortality could be around >68% (see last Ebola outbreak).
Why is mortality so different in various countries?
There are several reasons for that:
- Number of tests: In Germany, mildly sick patients have been tested while in Italy only moderate to severely sick patients received a test. The more mildly sick patients you have, the lower the mortality rate.
- Access to a test: In the US, for numerous week you had to pay for a test while in Germany it has been and is for free.
- Way of life: In Italy, many people live in larger families. Thus, the elderly is being infected by younger generations. In Germany we rather find small families so the elderly is “isolated” from the others.
- Hospital capacities: The number of beds, respirators and medical staff has been sharply reduced in the last couple of years in the United Kingdom and Italy. This has been done to safe expenses. Germany has also reduced capacities, but not to that extent as in above mentioned countries.
Last not least many patients are afraid to enter a hospital although it might be necessary. And inside hospitals the focus is shifted on Corona so there is a risk that other diseases get out of sight.
Why does it take so long with developing a vaccine?
There are no Corona vaccines from past experiences so there is no basis to build on. This is a crucial difference from the situation with influenza vaccines: They can be designed and produced within months.
Nevertheless, parts of other vaccines can be used as a basic element and modified to work as a Corona vaccine. Thus, the development of a Corona vaccine will (hopefully) not take 5-10 years as this is the usual average time for a vaccine development.
Testing a vaccine for efficiency and tolerability takes most of the time. A vaccine that is being tested in Mainz will be used in healthy volunteers for several months. After that, it will be tested in older volunteers with pre-existing conditions.
Some people erroneously believe that one day they will receive an untested vaccine. Nothing could be more wrong: E.g. in Mainz a first vaccine is already there but due to the need of thoroughness and safety, such a vaccine will be tested for a long time. In other words: Only after making sure that a vaccine has been tested thoroughly enough for efficiency and safety, it will be offered to the public.
As soon as such a vaccine will be available, I expect it to be distributed to risk groups first, just as in the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
Anything new about the antibody test?
At the moment, I do not recommend to have an antibody test for Corona. The information about the reliability of that tests stems from the company that produces it. The data base for reliability calculations has been rather small (69 Corona patients, see diagram).
Moreover, antibodies do not necessarily have to be protective antibodies: Patients P1 to P10 did have antibodies, but those antibodies couldn’t neutralize the virus (no visible columns on the diagram). The rest of patients (P11 to P175) showed different levels of neutralizing potency from way below 500 up to 20.000.
In certain situations, antibodies can prove harmful: After having gone through Dengue fever, you might develop antibodies that will make a later, second infection with Dengue virus even much worse. Thus, antibodies are not always the same.
Lastly, an immunity against a disease is not only caused by antibodies but many others parts of the immune system including “trained” T-type lymphocytes. And that makes the situation more complicated.
Long story short:
- If a patient has a positive antibody test, he doesn’t know if he will be immune to Corona virus, thus he has to continue to protect himself by wearing a mask etc. since he can still be infected.
- If a test turns out negative, the patient has to protect himself by wearing a mask etc.
Since the result is the same, I do not recommend doing a test now. And remember that you would have to repeat such a test every week. My recommendation will certainly change in the future, but not today.
If someone still wants to do such a test, I expect a test centre to be opened at the end of May, but costs have to be paid by the patient himself.
I strongly advise against thinking that a patient will be immune because of a positive antibody test. If someone visited his parents or grandparents without the necessary protection, this could have fatal results for them.
Is there a medication for Corona yet?
Remdesivir has the best data. In a US study (see diagram) it showed a certain efficacy that lead to its approval in the US a week ago while this step still being evaluated in Europe.
Remdesivir alone is not efficient enough. More substances are being tested.
Live your lives! – with social distancing, masks and hygiene
Since the Corona pandemic will last on for months, presumably another year, we can’t remain in a state of emergency because of psychological reasons. We need a certain amount of normality, otherwise the stress will be too much for us.
On the one hand, we need to follow protective measures without even thinking about them because they have become daily routine: distancing, masks, washing hands. On the other hand, we need to get back to our daily routine and way of life. Thus, we can feel that life goes on.
Research is working hard to find solutions. This might me invisible for non-physicians. New substances are being developed, trials performed to find out more about how the virus spreads so we will have more precise information how to protect us and at the same time have more freedom. And vaccine trials are on the way.
Nevertheless this “bad dream” will only be over when we receive a vaccine. I will keep a close eye on those developments. Initially I spent 10 hours a week with online presentations and conferences on Corona virus, at the moment it is only a couple of hours per week. This way I can continue to seek out the most important information of this complex topic, summarize it and put it in a shape that can be easily understood.