When hygiene matters most

The novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, is spreading worldwide. The main human-to-human transmission pathway appears to be droplet infection. With simple hygiene measures, each individual can help to protect themselves and others from the life-threatening lung disease and stem its rapid spread. Our topic special is dedicated to the most effective methods of protection against infection.

When hygiene matters most

Where does the Coronavirus come from?

On 11 March 2020 COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The lung disease is caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In contrast to an epidemic, the occurrence of an infectious disease in a pandemic is not localized and can spread across the entire globe, as can currently be observed. An infection with the corona virus manifests itself through flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever, rhinitis and fatigue. Breathing problems, neck scratches, headaches and aching limbs, nausea, diarrhoea and chills are also possible. The course of the disease is individually different and varies greatly. Symptomless progressions are possible, as well as severe pneumonia with lung failure and death. Researchers assume that the corona pathogen SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted from a wild animal to a human being at a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan (Hubei province). However, which animal originally carried the virus has not yet been clarified beyond doubt. At present, it is assumed that the pathogen was first transmitted from bats to other animals before it spread to humans - presumably by eating an animal that served as an intermediate host for the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen and was offered for sale at the market.

Trigger of infectious diseases

Infectious diseases can be caused by various pathogens, including viruses, bacteria or fungi.

Viruses such as the corona virus SARS-CoV-2 are not visible to the naked eye and are only about 20 to 300 nanometres in size. They invade animal, plant or human cells and use these living cells as so-called host cells. Even when exposed to air, they can sometimes survive for a very long time and remain contagious. However, a new host cell is necessary for long-term survival - if they do not find it, viruses die sooner or later.

Not all viruses cause disease. Our immune system often reacts quickly and fights off intruders immediately. Viruses begin to multiply in the body as soon as infection has occurred. Drugs are of limited help against viruses and antibiotics have been proven to be ineffective against viral diseases. There are antiviral drugs that only help against certain types of viruses. Since viruses (for example the influenza virus) can change, they are able to get past the body's own defences more easily. A person only becomes immune when his body has dealt with the pathogen. However, even after a disease has been overcome, immunity is not always guaranteed. Viruses do not have their own metabolism.

Compared to viruses, bacteria are many times larger. They are about 0.1 to 700 micrometers in size, single-celled organisms that are self-sufficient. They also have their own genetic material and metabolism. Bacteria are everywhere - in the air, in water, in food, etc. Similar to viruses, bacteria can survive for very long periods of time, often weeks, sometimes even months, in the environment or in the body itself. They are very adaptable and can multiply under various conditions. Only one percent of all bacteria cause disease in humans. Often bacteria are even important for health. For example, they live in the human intestine, on the skin or in the oral cavity. Those who want to eliminate bacteria can use high temperatures (for example in the form of water vapour when cleaning) or chemical substances such as alcohol, aldehydes or chlorine. In the human body, antibiotics are often used as part of a treatment. The bacteria are prevented from multiplying or even destroyed directly.

Fungi occur quite naturally on the human skin or in the body. There are only a few types of fungi that cause disease in humans, including skin fungi, yeasts or some moulds. These fungi feel good wherever it is damp: in bathrooms, niches, on damp walls or in flower pots. Foodstuffs such as bread, potatoes or flour can also be a breeding ground for fungi. Mushrooms can even be found in upholstered furniture and bed linen. The yeast fungus belongs to our natural skin flora. It lives in the skin scales and feeds on dead tissue particles. Fungi only penetrate the human body if the natural skin barrier is damaged or the immune system is weakened. Diseases caused by fungi are called mycoses. Mostly skin, nails or mucous membranes are affected. Only rarely are internal organs like the lungs affected by fungi. But if this happens, they can cause great damage.

How is the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 transmitted?

Droplet infection:

According to current knowledge, the corona pathogen SARS-CoV-2 is primarily transmitted via the so-called droplet infection. This involves people coughing or sneezing and distributing the pathogens in the air. Other people inhale these pathogens and, in the worst case, become infected with them as well.

Indirect infection:

Indirect transmission of the virus is also possible. People who have previously coughed or sneezed into their hands touch objects such as door handles, mobile phones, touch screens or chair backs. The viruses remain on the surface and reach healthy people from there.

Contact infection (smear infection):

Smear infection is also a way for viral diseases to spread. For example, even the smallest, contaminated residual traces of human stool can reach a healthy person via dirty hands. Infection is also possible if the pathogen enters the body directly via the mucous membranes of the eyes, throat and nose or the upper airways, for example through a kiss. It has not yet been finally clarified whether SARS-CoV-2 spreads via a smear infection. One of the most effective measures to prevent smear infection is to wash your hands thoroughly with standard soap.

Hand hygiene

How can you protect yourself and others from infection?

Since there is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus, it is very important to follow simple hygiene measures - both in private surroundings and in personal hygiene as well as in public spaces.

  • Go easy on the face with unwashed hands
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap regularly and use disinfectant from time to time when travelling
  • Wear mouth-nose protection if you are ill - make sure the mask is correctly fitted
  • Use disposable tissues and put them in a bin with a lid
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Observe coughing and sneezing etiquette: When coughing or sneezing, keep at least one meter distance from other people, sneeze/cough in the crook of your arm and turn away from other people
  • Stay at home if respiratory symptoms or flu-like signs of illness occur
  • It is imperative to ensure spatial separation if persons in the immediate vicinity are ill
  • Ventilate rooms regularly and use an air purifier
  • Use home office facilities and avoid business trips
  • Avoid contact, especially with older or chronically ill fellow human beings
  • It is best to keep a distance of 2 to 2.5 metres from other people, especially those who are ill
  • Forego handshakes and hugs
  • Observe coughing and sneezing etiquette: When coughing or sneezing, keep at least one meter distance from other people, sneeze/cough in the crook of your arm and turn away from other people
  • Regularly disinfect surfaces such as car steering wheel, door handles, mobile phones, etc.
  • Abstain from private holidays
  • Avoid using public transport if possible
  • Attend no major events
  • Do not go shopping at peak times, use pick-up and delivery services

Why hygiene measures are so important in times of Corona

In a clean, well-maintained environment that is cleaned regularly, the risk of transmission of pathogens is minimised considerably. Surfaces are no longer a breeding ground for germs, bacteria or viruses. Even in places that are difficult to access, the pathogens are eliminated more thoroughly.

Read on:

Cleaning measures for cleanliness and hygiene at home and in public places.

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