How can you prevent a coronavirus infection?
The newly identified coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can cause a flu-like illness (COVID-19) with usually mild symptoms. But COVID-19 may develop to more serious pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs). Based on what doctors know now, the coronavirus spreads the same way that other flu and cold viruses do.
Note: Many false and unverified claims about the coronavirus are currently in circulation. Even this article may be intentionally misinterpreted as evidence for such claims. Be on your guard against misinformation! Here you can read about where to find good-quality information about the coronavirus.
Anyone who is infected spreads droplets that contain the virus when they cough or sneeze. And when you blow your nose, the virus gets on the tissue and your hands. Direct contact with others, such as shaking hands or hugging someone, also increases the likelihood of infection.
Everyone should take precautions to stop the virus from spreading in order to protect themselves and others from infection. This applies, of course, not only to the coronavirus, but to all other germs that cause diseases of the airways, and involves following a few simple hygiene rules:
Wash your hands and your children’s hands.
- … regularly: Every time you come home, go to the toilet, or prepare or eat food.
- … and thoroughly: Normal soap is all you need. It hasn’t been proven that special soaps are any more effective against bacteria or viruses. But it’s important to use the soap thoroughly for at least 20 seconds and to reach all parts of your hands. Rinse your hands afterwards under running water. The temperature of the water is less important than the amount of time you spend washing your hands.
- Don’t touch your face with your hands. Your risk of being infected is high if you touch your mouth, nose or eyes after you’ve had contact with a person or object that could have the virus.
- Do not drink from cups or bottles that other people have used.
If you become infected with the coronavirus yourself, you can do the following to prevent infecting others:
Always be careful when you cough or sneeze. That means:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a paper tissue when you cough or sneeze. Always keep a distance of about one meter between yourself and other people, and turn away from them.
- Do not re-use tissues. Throw them out immediately after use.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose.
- If you don’t have a paper tissue on hand, cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow.
Even when you’re not coughing or sneezing you should keep your distance from others – especially people who have a greater risk of infection or developing more severe symptoms, especially older people or people who have an underlying condition like diabetes or cancer. So, in practical terms it’s important to
- not shake hands with other people,
- avoid close physical contact such as hugs and kisses,
- call first to get advice before going to a doctor or hospital.
You can find regularly updated information and read more about the coronavirus at the following sites:
- Robert Koch Institute
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- German Federal Ministry of Health (BMG)
- German Federal Foreign Office
Andreae S, Avelini P, Berg M, Blank I, Burk A. Lexikon der Krankheiten und Untersuchungen. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2008.
Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung (BZgA). Infektionsschutz.de: Antworten auf häufig gestellte Fragen zum neuartigen Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). 2020.
Jefferson T, Del Mar CB, Dooley L, Ferroni E, Al-Ansary LA, Bawazeer GA et al. Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011; (7): CD006207.
Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Jameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2015.
Pschyrembel. Klinisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter; 2017.
Robert-Koch-Institut (RKI). Antworten auf häufig gestellte Fragen zum Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. 28.02.2020
IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping
people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health
Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.
Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.