Research on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

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The research on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections examines which parts of the population have already recovered from an infection and which transmission routes are possible or makes predictions about how different behavioral patterns affect the spread of the infection.

Transmission of SARS‐CoV‐2 in an industrial setting

Here, we describe a multifactorial investigation of the events of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in the largest meat processing complex in Germany. Timing of infection events, spatial relationship between workers in the meat processing plant, climate and ventilation conditions, sharing of living quarters and transport, and full viral genome sequences recovered from PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases were analyzed.
Transmissions occurred in a confined area of a meat processing plant in which air is constantly recirculated and cooled to 10°C. Index case B1 transmitted the virus to co-workers in a radius of more than 8 meters during work-shifts on 3 consecutive days. Assessment of viral sequences shows that all cases share a set of eight single nucleotide mutations representing a novel sub-branch in the SARSCoV-2 C20 clade. We identified the same set of mutations in samples collected in the time period between the initial infection cluster and a subsequent outbreak in the following month, with the largest number of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive cases in a meat processing facility reported so far.
Our results indicate climate conditions and airflow as factors that can promote efficient spread of SARS-CoV-2 via distances of more than 8 meters and provide insights into possible requirements for pandemic mitigation strategies in industrial workplace settings.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Melanie Brinkmann

Partners:

  • Health office Osnabrück
  • Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • Omicron Systems GmbH
  • University of Bonn
  • Technical University of Braunschweig
  • University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf

Funding: Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony

more information: Website of the HZI

SAVE - Effective strategies to control and manage pathogen spread pathways to protect critical infrastructure

Closed administrative buildings, schools and universities, home offices for many employees who are not allowed to enter office and work spaces. The protective measures required in the Corona pandemic have far-reaching implications for public life and the community. But what are the options for containing infection risks in buildings? In the Corona project SAVE, the Institute of Structural Design, Industrial and Health Buildings (IKE) at the Technical University of Braunschweig is working with four other partners to develop model structural solutions to control pathogen propagation routes in critical infrastructures.

Contact:   Dr. Wolfgang Sunder

Partners:

  • Charité - University Medicine Berlin
  • Hermann Rietschel Institute of the Technical University of Berlin (HRI)
  • Federal Information Center for Biological Hazards and Special Pathogens (IBBS)
  • Robert Koch Institute (RKI)
  • Technical University of Braunschweig

Funding: 800.000 € from the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR)

more information: Website of the Technical University of Braunschweig

»AVATOR« – Anti-Virus-Aerosol: Testing, Operation, Reduction

Scientists assumed for quite some time that the coronavirus is transmitted primarily by droplet infection – that is, through larger droplets and particles. There are, however, findings clearly suggesting that tiny exhaled droplets which are smaller than 10 µm in diameter and remain airborne for a long time – referred to as aerosols – may cause infections, if they are loaded with viruses. In the project AVATOR (Anti-Virus-Aerosol: Testing, Operation, Reduction), scientists are, therefore, investigating how to monitor and reduce the risk of infection from aerosol-borne virus in indoor areas. In addition to simulation-based methods for air dispersion assessment, the project is also aimed at developing air purification technologies involving both trapping and inactivation of the virus. This will serve as a basis for deriving hygiene concepts for different applications. The results of this project will be beneficial to all operators of indoor spaces – in particular means of transport such as airplanes or trains as well as production facilities and meeting rooms, but also classrooms and open-plan offices shall be addressed.

Contact:   Dr. Annette Bitsch

Partners:

  • Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut (EMI)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research (IFAM)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (IGD)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Microtechnology and Microsystems (IMM)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (IPM)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics (ITWM)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability (LBF)

more information: Website of the ITEM

High-Performance Computing against Corona

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) are developing a software package that can be used to simulate the influence of protective measures such as contact bans or curfews on the development of corona infection rates over several months. For the first time, geographically, temporally and demographically high-resolution simulations are possible. The software includes an online simulation tool that should be easy and intuitive to use.

Contact:   Dr. Sebastian Binder

Partners:

  • German Aerospace Center (DLR)
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

more information: Website of the HZI and the DLR

LEOSS.sero-survey - How many people are now immune to SARS-CoV-2?

Who has overcome an infection with the virus without noticing, and how many people have already produced protective antibodies against the new coronavirus? Various antibody studies are now under way that will provide information on immunity or seroprevalence in the population. However, in order to compare these studies in a timely and reliable manner and provide a comprehensive evaluation, the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is building a platform that gathers the methodology and results of the tests and makes the data available to interested researchers. The project “LEOSS.sero-survey” will be led by scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and implemented in collaboration with Helmholtz Federated IT Services (HIFIS).

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Gérard Krause

Partners:

  • German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)
  • Helmholtz Federated IT Services (HIFIS)
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

Funding: 224.158 € from the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)

more information: Website of the HZI and the LEOSS.sero-survey

Multilocal and Serial Prevalence Study on Antibodies against SARS-2 Coronavirus in Germany (MuSPAD)

Scientific data indicate that many COVID-19 cases are not recorded due to mild and asymptomatic infection courses. Therefore, it is not possible to reliably estimate the number of people who have actually been or are still infected with SARS-CoV-2. Accordingly, it is also difficult to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19. This lack of information also makes it difficult to estimate the future development of the pandemic and the resulting prevention strategies. By measuring antibodies in the blood, it is possible to determine how many people have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (seroprevalence).

Contact:  Prof. Dr. Gérard Krause

Partners:

  • Conventic GmbH
  • German Red Cross
  • Die Johanniter
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • Hospital Osnabrück
  • administrative district Osnabrück
  • administrative district Reutlingen
  • District Office Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald
  • Malteser
  • Natural and Medical Sciences Institute at the University of Tübingen (NMI)
  • City of Osnabrück
  • StädteRegion Aachen
  • University Medical Center Freiburg

Funding: 4.976.503 € from the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz Association

more information: Website of the HZI and MuSPAD

LöwenKIDS study on virus spread in children

To investigate the susceptibility of children to SARS-CoV-2, scientists are collecting samples from 500 children in the long-term study LöwenKIDS, which was started in 2014. In order to obtain snapshots of the spread of the pathogen, nasal swabs of the test persons will be taken at two different times. In addition, symptomatic samples will be examined over the next few months. In parallel, detailed information on symptoms and possible contact with coronavirus-infected persons will be collected via health questionnaires. In a later examination, it is also planned to carry out antibody tests which may indicate that the infection has been overcome. The results of the investigations will help to determine the role of young children in the spread of the virus.

  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU)
  • TWINCORE - Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research

Funding: 50.000 € from the German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF)

more informationen: Website of the DZIF and the HZI

CORESMA: COVID-19 Outbreak Response combining E-health, Serolomics, Modelling, Artificial Intelligence and Implementation Research

The HZI coordinates the EU project CORESMA (COVID-19 Outbreak Response combining E-health, Serolomics, Modelling, Artificial Intelligence and Implementation Research). This project aims to close existing gaps between clinical, epidemiological and immunological information in order to better respond to the pandemic. The focus here is on particularly endangered countries - in addition to the Ivory Coast, these include Ghana and Nigeria. In addition, existing cross protection or partial immunity against SARS-CoV-2 will be investigated in Germany and Nepal. 

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Gérard Krause

Partners:

  • Beijing University of Chemical Technology (China)
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI, Germany)
  • Ministry of Health and Population (Nepal)
  • National Institute of Public Hygiene (Ivory Coast)
  • Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Switzerland)
  • University of Tübingen (Germany)

Funding: 2.759.195 € from the European Union (EU)

more information: Website of the EU and the HZI

The impact of sanitation and hygiene behavior on infectious diseases among vulnerable migrants in Germany, Indonesia and Nigeria

Recent outbreaks of infectious diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19 are having health, economic and social impacts. The aim of this study is to investigate the health effects of hygiene options, hygiene behaviour and compliance with hygiene regulations on infectious diseases such as COVID-19. To this end, we are currently conducting a standardized online study in Germany, Indonesia and Nigeria to investigate the cultural relevance. In order to achieve this goal, we plan to continue the long-term cooperation with the NGOs "Bildung und Gesundheit für Indonesien" and "Lembaga Pendamping Usaha Buruh Tani Nelayan", which plans various measures (such as workshops) based on the results to improve health and health behaviour.

Contact:   Dr. Karina Hoekstra

Partners:

  • Bildung und Gesundheit für Indonesien e.V.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover (LUH)
  • Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Nigeria)
  • Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (Indonesia)
  • University of Indonesia (Indonesia)

MCA: Mobile Corona Analytics

Lower Saxony model project for immediately effective support in the fight against Corona SARS-CoV-2

At the locations Hanover, Wolfsburg/Braunschweig and Göttingen, test facilities are to be built that work with a new approach. The aim is to quickly, reliably and efficiently test workforces for an infection with Corona SARS-CoV-2. The project name MCA stands for Mobile Corona Analytics. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture supports the approach. In the medium term, the mobile systems should be available as model systems for the whole of Lower Saxony and also in other federal states. The test systems can be produced directly on site, the equipment of life science laboratories of universities can be enlisted. A high degree of automation (robotics and digitalization) and newly developed software systems considerably shorten the time from taking the sample to obtaining the diagnostic result (laboratory, logistics, information and data management). The novel diagnostic procedure provides test persons with a reliable result within six to eight hours. Another advantage: the method makes it possible to test different influenza viruses simultaneously. This would make it possible to clearly assign patient groups and improve risk management in the fall, when a new wave of influenza comes.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Stefanie Heiden

Partners:

  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover (LUH)
  • Hanover University of Music, Theatre and Media (HMTMH)
  • Hannover Medical School (MHH)
  • Lower Saxony Center for Biomedical Engineering, Implant Research and Development (NIFE)

Funding: Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur

more information: Website of the LUH

TRAC 19 - TRransmission Analytics Covid19

Lower Saxony school model project for the clarification of SARS-CoV-2 infection pathways in children and adolescents and their teachers in dependence of time

The opening of schools, which is beginning according to the step-by-step plan of the Lower Saxony Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs after the previous complete lockdown, offers a unique opportunity to investigate the prevalence and the increased incidence of COVID-19 to be expected due to the increased interaction of children and adolescents among themselves and with adults (teaching staff) on the basis of selected school locations in Hanover. The requested study will provide for the first time, quality-assured, up-to-date and also very quickly (within 6-8 hours) real-time data on the infection chain and spread and thus the essential information for establishing knowledge-based decision-making aids. These important findings allow for the adoption of appropriate effective measures and the preparation of improved crisis management in further cases. 
This would make Lower Saxony an innovative model location and could provide important information not only for the entire republic but also for other highly industrialised societies with similar age structures and far beyond. Thus, the project applied for is an innovative model project for directly effective support in the fight against Corona SARS-CoV-2 through trans- and interdisciplinary study cooperation of LUH, MHH, NIFE and HMTMH, which, if implemented, would also lead to international visibility in science and society.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Stefanie Heiden

Partners:

  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University Hannover (LUH)
  • Hanover University of Music, Theatre and Media (HMTMH)
  • Hannover Medical School (MHH)
  • Lower Saxony Center for Biomedical Engineering, Implant Research and Development (NIFE)

Quantitative analysis of SARS-CoV-2 infection dynamics in differential equation models

A decisive variable in the description of the spread of an infectious pathogen is the reproduction number. The basic reproduction number indicates how many people are infected on average by an infected person. It is an important indicator of how quickly an epidemic spreads. In this project, a classical model from mathematical epidemiology was extended by SARS-CoV-2 specific components to describe the spread of the pathogen more precisely. We calculate a time-dependent reproduction rate, Rt, of SARS-CoV-2 for different, overlapping time windows of the previous epidemic course and publish it as well as a forecast of the daily new infections for the next three weeks. The model and the results of the analysis were published as a preprint.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer-Hermann

Partners:

  • Research Centre Jülich
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich
  • Technical University of Braunschweig

more information: Website of the HZI

Scenario calculation for the containment of the Corona pandemic

In a joint study by the ifo Institute (ifo) and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), epidemiological and economic simulation models were combined. The simulations show that, with a slight relaxation of the measures (reproduction figure Rt = 0.75), the costs will fall slightly compared to the measures in force before 20 April 2020 (Rt = 0.627). On the other hand, if the relaxation is too strong (Rt = 1), the restrictions would have to remain in place for so long that the overall economic costs would be higher over the entire period of 2020 and 2021.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer-Hermann

Partners:

  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich

more information: Website of the ifo Institute

Agent-based model for the analysis of non-pharmacological interventions

Our team is developing a mathematical model that, in addition to describing the dynamics of infection on the basis of populations of infected and healthy people, also takes into account the spatial and demographic structure as well as the individual behaviour of individuals. The focus is on modelling the decision-making processes of individuals in the context of the pandemic. Non-pharmacological interventions (NPI) and their communication, media coverage and individual factors such as age or employment all play a role.
This agent-based modelling will serve as a tool to predict the further course of the COVID-19 pandemic and the chances of success of NPIs such as curfews or school closures. The programming code and other information is available on Gitlab.
 

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Michael Meyer-Hermann

Partners:

  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

SARS-COV-2 Genomic Epidemiology / Phylogeography

In this project, genomic and epidemiological data will be used to draw conclusions about the distribution routes and nodes in the spread of the pandemic locally and internationally.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Alice McHardy

Partners:

  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)

Identification of risk factors for a severe course of COVID-19

The clinical Corona Saarland 2020 study ("Corsaar" study) will collect clinical data and biomaterials. The collected blood samples will be analyzed at HIPS by mass spectrometry. The aim is to be able to better predict the course of disease in COVID-19 patients and identify high-risk patients at an early stage. The HIPS is also participating in a study on the prevalence of COVID-19 in nursing homes and care facilities. Patient samples from all facilities are collected and submitted to virus diagnostics.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Rolf Müller

Partners:

  • Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS)
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • University Hospital of the Saarland

Funding: 280.000 € from the State Chancellery of the Saarland

more information: Website of the HZI

QUELLE: Tracing airborne infection risks - what roles can aerosols play?

According to current knowledge, SARS-CoV-2 viruses and many other pathogens are primarily transmitted via droplet infection. In order to reduce the risk of infection, a large number of mandatory and voluntary measures have been established, such as contact restrictions and use of a face mask. The transmission of viruses through exhaled aerosols - tiny (< 5 µm) droplets of liquid that remain suspended in the air for a long time - is a recurrent topic of discussion. Experts at the Fraunhofer ITEM now want to use existing, suitable measuring techniques to systematically investigate how large the emission of fine aerosol particles is in the exhaled air and whether the currently used oronasal masks provide efficient protection against exhaled aerosols. The research results should contribute to a better understanding of the transmission of corona viruses and help to better assess the relevance, suitability and prioritisation of appropriate protective measures, particularly in the health care and elderly care sectors. In addition, the efficiency of passive protective measures, such as ventilation of rooms, will be evaluated.

Contact:   Dr. Katharina Schwarz

Partners:

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM)

more information: Website of the ITEM

CoClean-up: Containing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 with highly efficient disinfection of indoor air

The main vectors for the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are fine droplets, so-called aerosols, in the exhaled air of infected persons. In a joint project, the Fraunhofer Institutes ITEM and IKTS are producing a prototype for electrochemical total oxidation. This total oxidation is intended to inactivate biological aerosols. Once the prototype has been successfully tested, the aim is to rapidly optimize and integrate the system, increase the scale and introduce it to the market. The highly efficient disinfection of indoor air will also be used in the future to prevent the spread of viruses.

Contact:   Dr. Katharina Schwarz

Partners:

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM)

more information: Website of the ITEM

SORMAS: COVID-19 case and contact person management

The HZI investigates the dynamics of infection spread in the population. An app for disease control and risk assessment developed at the HZI (SORMAS), which has already been successfully used during outbreaks of infection in Africa, can now also be used for the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The new coronavirus module in SORMAS allows the early detection of COVID-19 sufferers even in remote regions, the documentation of clinical details and laboratory confirmations, the registration of contact persons and the monitoring of all contact persons. In case they also fall ill, quarantine and treatment measures can be initiated at an early stage. At the same time, SORMAS generates data in real time for ongoing risk assessment at national and international level. On the one hand, SORMAS is rolled out via remote installation in several countries worldwide, and on the other hand, the system was adapted for use in the public health service (ÖGD) in Germany. SORMAS also offers an app for contact persons to digitize the daily symptom query in quarantine, thus freeing up personnel resources at the health authorities. SORMAS-ÖGD-COVID19 is already used by some German health authorities, the implementation in some federal states is planned.

Contact:   Prof. Dr. Gérard Krause

Partners:

  • Academy of Public Health
  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • State Health Authorities

funding: 8.027.700 € from the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG), 998.000 € from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) und 1.436.200 € from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture (MWK)

more information: Website of the HZI and SORMAS

PIA: Digital infection monitoring of immunocompromised persons

The aim is to intensify the monitoring of immunocompromised patients, for example those with previous diseases such as HIV, at the MHH using an application developed by the HZI Department of Epidemiology. It will be recorded whether there is a particular risk with regard to the frequency of infection or the course of the disease. The digital eResearch system PIA (Prospective Monitoring of Acute Infection Application), which can be used as a symptom diary in the context of COVID-19, is already being used in the NAKO health study to research acute respiratory diseases. 

Contact:   Dr. Stefanie Castell

Partners:

  • Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI)
  • Hannover Medical School (MHH)

Funding: 266.070 € from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture

more information: Website of the HZI and of the PIA-App

B-FAST - Nationwide Research Network Applied Surveillance and Testing

Learn more about this project from Hannover Medical School here.

COVIM - Determination and use of SARS-CoV-2 immunity

Learn more about this project from Hannover Medical School here.

EViPan - development, testing and implementation of regionally adaptive care structures and processes for an evidence-led pandemic management coordinated by university medicine

Learn more about this project from Hannover Medical School here.

SmICS - Smart infection control against SARS-CoV-2

Learn more about this project from Hannover Medical School here.