Suspected coronavirus – what to do?

Suspected coronavirus - what to do?

Despite significant progress in the vaccination campaign, numerous new infections with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus are still being reported daily. But what can you do if you suspect that you have been infected with the virus, and where do you have to report it? When do you need to go into quarantine or isolation? What if you are already fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered? We provide information on the proper steps to take if you suspect a coronavirus infection.

Recognize symptoms of coronavirus.

The course of the disease can be different in the case of an infection with the coronavirus – one then speaks of COVID-19. In general, a distinction is made between a mild form and a severe form. In the rarest of cases, the course is critical to life-threatening.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are highly variable and sometimes difficult to distinguish from regular flu (influenza). The most common symptoms are:

In addition, the following complaints can occur:

In the case of an infection with the omicron variant, fever or disorders of the sense of smell and taste occur less frequently. Still, headaches, runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat occur particularly frequently.

Here is detailed information on recognizing the symptoms of coronavirus infection.


How do I behave if I suspect a coronavirus infection?

In a suspected case, it is essential to remain calm and not drive straight to the first emergency room. 

Call your family doctor’s office to relieve the health authorities if you suspect a coronavirus infection. Many practices now offer special corona consultation hours. The medical on-call service can also be contacted at 116117 on the weekend or outside of office hours.

When is a test performed?

PCR test for COVID-19 is recommended regardless of vaccination or recovery status if symptoms are typical of infection with the coronavirus, such as severe respiratory symptoms or a disturbance of the sense of smell and taste. 1,2 Slight respiratory symptoms are usually not a reason for a PCR test unless they are members of a risk group or people who have a lot of contact with other people, for example, when working in the medical field or if they come into contact with of a person who tested positive for COVID-19 (contact person). 1

In addition, rapid antigen tests are also carried out in certain situations without specific symptoms, for example, as a precautionary measure for staff, residents or visitors of community facilities or communal accommodation, such as nursing homes or hospitals, or if there have been specific cases of infection. Even after a stay in a risk area (within Germany or abroad), corona tests may be necessary under certain conditions. Depending on the application, a distinction is made between PCR tests in the laboratory and rapid antigen tests, which can also be carried out as self-tests.

In addition, depending on the applicable regulations, an antigen test may be required, for example, when visiting a concert or restaurant. The so-called 3G rule provides for this, for example, for people who are neither vaccinated nor recovered. The 2G-plus rule also provides for an additional daily rapid test for those who have been vaccinated or have recovered.

It is a reportable suspected case if, in addition to the occurrence of possible COVID-19 symptoms, there was also close contact with a person who has been proven to be infected. 1

The final decision as to whether a PCR test should be carried out always lies with the treating doctor or the responsible health authority.

Here, you can find detailed information about the test for the coronavirus.


Close contact person: suspected case with first-degree contact person

The coronavirus is transmitted from person to person mainly by speaking, sneezing and coughing (droplet infection). In addition, the virus can survive on surfaces for some time, so our hands are also possible carriers, especially if we touch our faces.

Because of the way COVID-19 spreads, direct contact with someone who is sick could mean you could be sick, too. Such cases are referred to as close contacts or formerly as first-degree contacts.

In this context, close contact means, for example, a personal conversation of at least ten minutes (without appropriate protection, e.g. mouth and nose protection) and touching such as kissing or coughing. People who live in the same household as an infected person or have been in situations where aerosol transmission may have occurred (e.g. at choir rehearsals or joint celebrations indoors) are also considered close contacts.

The infected contact person must have tested positive for the coronavirus, so there must be more than just a suspicion.

I had contact with a person who confirmed coronavirus. What should I do?

If, as described above, you have had direct contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and are experiencing possible disease symptoms, you should carry out a rapid antigen test. If this is positive, go into domestic isolation for at least five days. The same procedure applies if no such contact is known, but you still feel symptoms that could indicate COVID-19.

In most federal states, there is a five-day isolation requirement, and the subsequent “free testing” is no longer applicable in almost all federal states. If this obligation continues, the “free testing” can be done using a PCR or a monitored rapid antigen test with evidence. The Federal Ministry of Health generally recommends waiting for a negative rapid antigen test before ending the isolation, even if there is no longer a legal obligation.

Depending on the federal state, a doctor’s visit with a PCR test is no longer required for mild symptoms. If in doubt, your first point of contact is your general practitioner. A positive self-test or rapid test entitles you to a free PCR test to confirm your suspicion. This is advisable as the results of antigen tests are considered less reliable. 

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your family doctor will determine the next steps and whether you need to be tested. The same applies here: Please do not drive alone to the emergency room or doctor’s office. The risk of spreading the virus is enormous. Call the emergency number if you feel acutely ill or have shortness of breath. Otherwise, go into quarantine at home and clarify the next steps by phone. If you cannot reach anyone at your doctor’s office, contact the medical on-call service on 116117.

If you use the Corona-Warn-App, you should enter your positive test result in the app to warn of possible contacts and break further chains of infection.

I am a symptom-free contact.

Suppose you have had close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus. In that case, it is recommended that you reduce contact with other people, especially those from risk groups, as much as possible and go into quarantine at home. It is also advisable to carry out a rapid antigen test daily, even if you do not feel any symptoms.


Suspected case with 2nd degree contact

Another possibility is that you had no direct contact with a person who was proven to be infected, but a second person with whom you also had or had personal contact was demonstrably near a person with a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 virus. Infection. This was formerly known as a 2nd degree contact.

What should you do in this situation? In this case, you should await the diagnostic steps with the person in direct contact with the virus (first-degree contact). As a second-degree contact, you do not have to call the health department or go into quarantine.

However, if your close contact also tests positive, you become a first-degree contact, i.e. a close contact. Then, you should reduce your contacts as described above and, if possible, conduct a rapid antigen test daily. If the test result is positive, the five-day isolation begins and, depending on the federal state, a PCR test is carried out. You can leave the house for this. Contact your family doctor’s practice in advance by telephone.

Kontaktpersonen der Kategorie II und III

Anfangs klassifizierte das Robert Koch-Institut Personen mit geringerem Risiko als Kontaktpersonen der Kategorie II. Dazu zählten beispielsweise Menschen, die sich nur kurz im selben Raum mit einer nachweislich infizierten Person aufgehalten haben oder nur kurzen direkten Gesichts- oder Sprachkontakt hatten. Auch medizinisches Personal, das sich zwar ohne Schutzkleidung im selben Raum aufhielt wie eine infizierte Person, dabei aber mindestens zwei Meter Abstand einhielt, gehörte zu dieser Gruppe.

Category III included medical personnel wearing appropriate protective clothing carrying out care or medical examinations of people with a confirmed infection. These categories have now been eliminated.3

Current information about the coronavirus

You will receive tips and reports on the situation several times a week in our special coronavirus newsletter. You can register for free here.


Home quarantine – how should I behave?

In most cases, if you suspect a coronavirus infection, you will be asked to reduce contacts and carry out a rapid antigen test daily. This reduces the risk of infecting other people unnoticed.

If you are proven to be infected, you must go into isolation. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical advice by telephone. You may need to be transferred to the hospital for isolation.

During the period of isolation, daily health surveillance should be carried out, which includes noting symptoms and measuring body temperature regularly.

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