Interview with Bonn virologist Hendrik Streeck comments on the increase in Covid numbers after Carnival
Bonn · Bonn virologist Hendrik Streeck is not alarmed by the current increase in the number of Covid-19 cases but urges everyone to stay at home if they feel ill, regardless of the virus.
Covid case numbers are continuing to rise in Bonn after Carnival. Virologist Hendrik Streeck of Bonn University Hospital is not surprised, and he sees no reason to be alarmed. GA editor Christine Ludewig spoke to him about the current situation and what he thinks infected people should do now.
What do you think of the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases after Carnival? Is this a wave now or a short carnival-related blip?
Hendrik Streeck: It was to be expected that numbers would rise as a result of the carnival festivities in the last few weeks and not only because of the Rosenmontag parade. Over the last three years, we have learned that indoor socialising leads to infections. We must bear in mind that the Coronavirus will not go away and will be with us for the next few years. It will continue to cause small surges of infection over again, especially in winter. But that is not at all worrying. We now have an enormously high level of immunity in the population. Due to this immunity and the modified properties of the Coronavirus since the Omicron variant, the virus has run out of steam a bit. We are now only seeing isolated cases of people who become really ill and need intensive medical treatment. So the coronavirus is increasingly joining all the other cold viruses. In the past, people had a cold with a different virus after carnival parties. Now it can also - but not only - be the coronavirus.
Does that mean that the pandemic is now turning into the endemic?
Streeck: This is a difficult statement to make scientifically. By definition, a pandemic is a disease that causes severe and simultaneous infections on several continents and that overburdens the health system. And we still have an unclear picture in some parts of the world, such as China. But if we’re talking colloquially about the pandemic, I would say: yes, we have arrived at the endemic. That's why it's acceptable to have fun at carnival again as normal. But we must bear in mind that infections, regardless of the virus, happen when we are close together and partying. This is nothing specific to the Coronavirus. Flu can also be severe and require intensive treatment. Therefore, if you are worried or if you’re vulnerable, it is better to avoid this kind of revelry. Of course, it is always difficult to look ahead. But I expect that the number of cases will rise again in the coming days and then fall with the spring due to seasonal effects.
You have just mentioned it: How is the severity of the courses of the currently widespread Coronavirus variants developing?
Streeck: We are seeing an increase in the XBB.1 variant, which was first described in the USA last year. It is an immuno-evading variant, but it does not have more pathogenic properties. In principle, evolution towards more pathogenic properties is possible, but unlikely. Since Omicron, we are no longer seeing these changes in the characteristics, and since then we are also seeing significantly less severe courses. Occasionally they still occur, especially if someone has a predisposition, i.e. a previous illness. Therefore, self-protection is the top priority here, especially when there are risk factors.
According to a report by the Robert Koch Institute in mid-February, the XBB.1 variant is the second most common variant, right?
Streeck: Last week it was around 20 per cent. We assume that it will soon be dominant. is more easily transmitted even in vaccinated or people or those who have already recovered from Covid-19. But it is important to know that there is still protection against a severe course. After all, we do not only have an immune response, but a whole army of T-cells and antibodies, most of which are still active even in the case of immuno-evasion.
How should people behave under these circumstances, especially after the discontinuation of many Coronavirus protection measures, if they have a positive Coronavirus test?
Streeck: Well, I have to be very clear: If you feel ill, no matter what the infection is, then you should please stay at home to avoid passing on the infection. You don't need a positive Covid test for that. We all know how poorly the rapid antigen test detects an acute infection. That is the reason I appeal to people who feel ill to stay at home for their own sake and that of their fellow human beings. If you still have to go out, for example to pick up your children from school or to go shopping, then you should wear an FFP2 mask.
The Covid-19 situation is easing. So how much space does the Coronavirus still take up in your own day-to-day work? Are you devoting yourself more to original research areas again?
Streeck: The original research areas never went away, we continued to research them all the time, they just faded into the background. For a while now, the dominance of the Coronavirus has been over, but there are still quite a few publications we are working on. In a publication now in Nature Communication, we have just shown nicely how the complexity of immunity builds up over time through vaccination and exposure to infections or combinations thereof, and Omicron has basically acted like a very good booster in vaccinated people.