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Home Allgemeine Infos - Pressemeldung, 26.11.2020

Controlling Covid-19 infections -
With which strategy?

Sehr geehrte Interessierte, sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

an dieser Stelle möchten wir Sie über den Sinn und Zweck sowie den ausgewählten Teilnehmerkreis der Corona-Forschungsstudie informieren.

Die Studie wird von einem Team der Universität Heidelberg im Rahmen des bundesweiten Forschungsnetzes zur angewandten Surveillance und Testung durchgeführt, das wiederum zum Nationalen Forschungsnetzwerkes der Universitätsmedizin zu Covid-19 gehört. Wir werden von den örtlichen Gesundheitsämtern unterstützt und vom Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung finanziert.

Das neuartige Coronavirus, wissenschaftlich SARS-CoV-2 genannt, stellt uns alle vor große Herausforderungen und wir mussten uns alle in den letzten Monaten wegen der Pandemie stark einschränken. Aktuell wird auf steigende Fallzahlen in der Regel mit einer Verschärfung der Maßnahmen reagiert. Das liegt vor allem daran, dass auch viele Personen ohne Symptome das Virus unerkannt weitertragen und damit nicht rechtzeitig lokal begrenzt reagiert werden kann. Dafür bräuchte es eine Strategie, die frühzeitig auch infizierte Personen ohne Symptome erkennen kann. Mit der Corona-Forschungsstudie erproben wir neue Verfahren hierzu.

Im Zeitraum vom 18. November bis 08. Dezember werden ca. 28.000 Einwohner im Rhein-Neckar-Raum von uns ein Einladungsschreiben zur Teilnahme der Studie erhalten. Die Einladungen werden dabei gleichmäßig verteilt über die Tage verschickt. Sollten Sie in diesem Zeitraum kein Einladungsschreiben erhalten, können Sie leider nicht an der Studie teilnehmen und wir bitten Sie, von Anfragen rund um eine mögliche Teilnahme an der Studie abzusehen. Die Probandinnen und Probanden, d. h. die Menschen, die an der Corona-Forschungsstudie teilnehmen können, wurden dafür zufällig aus den Einwohnermeldeämtern der Gemeinden im Rhein-Neckar-Raum ausgewählt. Solche sogenannten Einwohnermeldestichproben sind nach §46 des Bundesmeldegesetzes zulässig, falls die Studie im öffentlichen Interesse stattfindet.

Weitere Informationen zur Corona-Forschungsstudie können Sie unserer Pressemitteilung entnehmen.

Vielen Dank für Ihr Interesse!

The Heidelberg University Hospital starts a study to monitor the infection rate in the Rhein-Neckar district and the city of Heidelberg / More than 28,000 test subjects are randomly selected from registration registers and written to / Doctors urgently ask for help

Numerous residents of the Rhine-Neckar region are currently receiving letters from the Heidelberg University Hospital with a symptom questionnaire or a tube of saline solution along with a request to participate in an important study on SARS-CoV-2 monitoring. The aim is to find the most suitable strategy for monitoring the development of the pandemic and to be able to initiate adequate measures in a reasonable time, ideally in a decentralised and quick manner. The Heidelberg study “Virusfinder” is part of “B-FAST”, a nationwide association for virus testing and monitorin. B-FAST is part of an unprecedented initiative of the Network University Medicine (NUM), which all German university hospitals have joined in order to bundle their research activities to deal with the current pandemic crisis. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the development of the research network coordinated by the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin to combat Covid-19 with 150 million euros.

The cooperation partners of the Virusfinder study under the leadership of the Heidelberg Institute for Global Health at the Heidelberg University Hospital are the Tropical Medicine section of the institute, the Center for Molecular Biology of the University of Heidelberg (ZMBH), the Rhein-Neckar District Health Department and the evaplan GmbH at the Heidelberg University Hospital as well as the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the University of Heidelberg. The GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences in Mannheim supported the study in an advisory capacity.

The corona test using a saliva sample can be rapidly and easily conducted by everyone on their own

From November 19, 28,125 people that were randomly selected from all age groups using the population registers of Heidelberg and surrounding municipalities have been contacted and asked for help. On the one hand, the scientists want to use saliva samples to record the number of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections. On the other hand, four different SARS-CoV-2 monitoring strategies for the general population are being tested to assess their informative value and cost efficiency: In two study groups, individual test subjects or all persons in their household are asked to provide us with a saliva sample that can be taken by gargling at home. Two other study groups in the same constellation work by first asking participants to fill in a short online survey on COVID-19 symptoms. Only if there are indications of a possible SARS-CoV-2 infection will the participants be asked for the saliva sample. Detailed explanations and instructions can be found in the accompanying letter. The study results are intended to support the Federal Ministry of Health in introducing suitable methods for comprehensive testing of the population in particular area.

“We need to test whole areas in order to better understand the role that symptom-free SARS-CoV-2 infections play in the spread of the pandemic and to be able to identify hotspots at an early stage. Only if we know the actual infection rate we will be able to take countermeasures in good time and, if possible, locally limited countermeasures”, explains study director Dr. Andreas Deckert from the Heidelberg Institute for Global Health at Heidelberg University Hospital. ”Otherwise we might keep going from one lockdown to the next in the future. “Scientists suspect that around 40 percent of all SARS-CoV-2 infections are symptom-free and largely remain undetected. This makes it very difficult to estimate the exact infection situation and to predict the load on the health system.

No impact on the testing capacities of the region

The aim of the study is to find an easy to implement and at the same time inexpensive test strategy with which an increase in the number of infections in the population can be monitored over a large area. This is particularly important at the beginning of the flu and cold season in order to conserve test and bed capacities in the region. For the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, a new method is used to detect the virus genome from a gargle sample that was developed in Heidelberg (called “isothermal nucleic acid amplification”). It is just as reliable as the common PCR detection from a throat swab, but is easier to use and significantly cheaper. The tests are evaluated at the Center for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg.

The new detection method is currently only approved for research, so the study has no impact on the region’s testing capacities. “We welcome the study because it also includes people who do not show any SARS-CoV-2-specific symptoms. This gives us a good overview of what is actually happening in the Rhine-Neckar region”, says the deputy head of the health department, Dr. Andreas Welker. The local health authorities of the city of Heidelberg have been helping the University Clinic by providing contact information of residents and providing the infrastructure for setting up a telephone hotline. All participants are guaranteed anonymity and maximum sample and data security.

If the test result is positive, the study participants receive a preliminary result. Then the result is checked with the established qPCR method. This can also be done with the existing saliva sample; an additional throat swab is not required. If the result is confirmed the health department will be informed because Covid-19 is a notifiable disease. The health department will contact those affected and provide information about further measures.

The study will run until shortly before Christmas. The strategy has proven to be useful in the course of the study. It is planned to be introduced in wider areas as quickly as possible in 2021. The results of the study are going to be published. “We can only keep this timeline if as many of the test subjects as possible take part in the study. You are making an important contribution for controlling the pandemic in the future“, emphasizes Dr. Deckert.

Further information online:

F-FAST | Federal Research Network for Applied Surveillance and Testing

Contact for journalists:

Dr. Andreas Deckert
Institut for Global Health at the University Clinic Heidelberg