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The novel coronavirus in a few words

The infectious agent

Coronaviruses are infectious agents originating from animals that have been known for a long time. In humans, they cause acute respiratory disease.


The new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, appeared in December 2019 in China. It is generating a global epidemic because it is highly contagious and the population does not yet have immunity to this new virus. Cases in China are becoming rare while they are increasing dramatically in Europe.


The new coronavirus is transmitted mainly through close and prolonged contact, i.e. by standing less than 2 meters away from a sick person for at least 15 minutes. The virus is spread by droplets from a sick person who coughs or sneezes, or left on surfaces that are touched shortly afterwards. It is not spread without direct contact with sputum because it does not remain suspended in the air.


The time from infection to the onset of the first symptoms is usually from 5 to 14 days. When a person has a viral infection of the respiratory tract (cough, fever), it is probable to be more contagious when symptoms are more evident. It is likely that one is contagious even before symptoms appear.


The disease, called COVID-19, most commonly manifests as a flu-like condition (fever and/or cough) that lasts for a few days to 2 or 3 weeks. The illness is usually mild in young and healthy people (especially children) but can sometimes be severe in older people or those with chronic diseases. At present, its lethality is estimated to be about 10 times greater than that of seasonal flu.

Populations at risk

People over the age of 65, those with a chronic illness such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart or respiratory disease are at greater risk of developing a severe complication that can lead to death. Well treated allergic asthma is not considered a risk factor. Pregnant women are not considered to be an at-risk population, but the precautionary principle dictates that they follow preventive measures very strictly.


Children are just as likely to be infected with the new coronavirus as adults are. They generally have milder symptoms (cough and/or fever) than adults do, or no symptoms at all. However, they can still transmit the virus, even as healthy carriers. That is why our authorities have decided to close schools.


Currently only molecular tests on nasopharyngeal swabs are recognized for the diagnosis of COVID-19. Other testing modalities are emerging. Serological tests, for example, can detect whether one has produced antibodies in response to infection. Serology can be useful in assessing the level of immunity in the population and in deciding whether to suspend quarantine measures in previously infected individuals. However, the performance of these tests is not yet known. Further studies are necessary before these tests can be used on a large scale.


There is currently no recommended treatment for COVID-19. Two clinical studies suggest that chloroquine may decrease the shedding of the virus in nasal secretions, the risk of complications and length of hospitalization. Antivirals such as remdesivir and lopinavir/ritonavir are being investigated and results should be available soon.


If the official hygiene recommendations are properly applied, the risk of catching the virus is greatly reduced. It is therefore necessary to keep a distance of more than 2 meters from other people, as far as possible (including at home), and to wash your hands before and after touching your face or touching objects used by many people. There are no other effective means of protecting onself other than these hygiene measures and social distancing (no herbal remedies or or other medicines).

Healthy people should not wear hygiene masks (or surgical masks) in public. They do not effectively protect a healthy person from infection because sputum can still be deposited on the rest of the face and hands that touch the mask. Wearing a mask can therefore give a false sense of security.

The CoronaCheck tool

Created in March 2020, CoronaCheck is the product of a close collaboration of experts from the Policlinic of Tropical, Travel and Vaccinal Medicine and engineers from the IT team of Unisanté. Thanks to their long experience in the development of clinical decision support algorithms, these experts in infectious disease, general medicine, public health and informatics could create a digital reference tool that help orient the popuation and health professionals based on recommendations tailored to their situation. The CoronaCheck algorithm follows the official recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health as well as scientific literature and the latest medical knowledge.

Unisanté, a pioneering center in digital health

Coronacheck is part of the development of clinical decision support algorithms and other digital health tools, in which Unisanté is a pioneer. The work that Unisanté has been carrying out for 15 years in primary care medicine, has enabled it to develop effective tools for clinical management, promoting modern and personalized medicine.

The translation of this site into ten languages was made possible thanks to the voluntary work of medical students via the METIS association, and the help of doctors from Unisanté and CHUV.

The logic behind coronacheck

Our algorithm is an adaptation of the official recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health. The logic behind our tool is freely accessible at this link.