Why do people die of viruses


The statistics of the World Health Organization WHO, apart from the current corona pandemic, also show the relevance of diseases caused worldwide by bacteria, viruses and parasites. If traffic accidents are ignored, then the ten most common causes of death worldwide include five infectious diseases or groups of infections. These include respiratory infections, which also include the lung disease Covid-19 caused by the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus, diarrhea, HIV infection, tuberculosis and infections of newborns. Almost five million people die each year worldwide from HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (WHO).

German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)

In the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) around 500 scientists from 35 institutions across Germany are jointly developing new approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. This is done with the aim of integrating new research results quickly and effectively into clinical practice. The DZIF is one of six centers for health research (DZG) set up by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to combat the most important common diseases. At the initiative of the German Society for Infectious Diseases (DGI), a European case register for Covid-19 was set up together with the DZIF. Clinical data for patients with a Sars-CoV-2 infection will be collected there.

Viruses: The most important pathogen in diseases of the upper respiratory tract

Viruses are very simply built particles that only consist of genetic material and a few protein building blocks. They cannot multiply on their own, but use host cells for this. Viruses are by far the most important causative agents of upper respiratory tract infections and diarrheal diseases.

Strong together in vaccine development

Work is being carried out on the development of vaccines in various places around the world. Research on the novel coronavirus, for example, is carried out as part of the "Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations" (CEPI), an international vaccine initiative supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). CEPI was founded in 2017 to develop vaccines against pathogens with pandemic potential. In close coordination with the WHO, CEPI has set itself the goal of bringing a first vaccine against Sars-CoV-2 to clinical trials within a few months and thus much faster than usual.

CEPI is a public-private partnership in which state sponsors as well as foundations, research institutions and pharmaceutical companies work together. Germany is one of the founding members and has so far supported CEPI with a total of 90 million euros. On March 11, 2020, the budget committee of the Bundestag provided an additional 145 million euros for research on the coronavirus, of which 140 million euros will be used to support the CEPI initiative.


As long as viral infections are easy, the human body can cope with them. More aggressive viruses, such as flu viruses or some tropical viruses, can become very dangerous if they hit particularly susceptible people. Sometimes viral infections are chronic over many years. Chronic inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) caused by viruses falls into this category. HIV and herpes infections are also usually permanent.

Because of their simple structure and the lack of their own metabolism, viruses are insensitive to antibiotics. It is true that medicine has now produced virus-specific drugs with which the multiplication of many viruses can be controlled. However, it is seldom possible to completely eliminate a virus that cannot be successfully fought by our body's immune system with medication alone. Modern HIV drugs, for example, keep HIV under control for a lifetime without it disappearing completely from the body.

Bacterial infections

Bacteria are unicellular microorganisms that enter the body via the respiratory tract, urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract and - especially in the case of injuries - also via the skin. Many bacteria are harmless to humans. However, some can also cause serious damage. Pneumococcal pneumonia is one of the most important bacterial infections and is life-threatening, especially in old age. Meningitis as a result of an infection with meningococci, which can affect younger people, is just as dangerous.

Seen globally, tuberculosis still plays an eminent role in bacterial infections today. Bacteria are also the most common cause of wound and other soft tissue infections. In general, antibiotics can treat bacterial infections effectively. However, resistant bacteria that are insensitive to many antibiotics are becoming increasingly popular. An important reason for the development of resistance is that antibiotics are used too often and often unnecessarily, not only in medicine, but also, for example, in animal breeding.

Parasites, fungi and prions

Parasites are single or multicellular organisms that are often visible to the naked eye, or at least with a magnifying glass. Head lice are a common parasite in our part of the world. Tapeworms also occur. The parasite problem is much more pronounced in the tropics. Malaria caused by plasmodia is one of the most important causes of death there. Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease caused by flukes in tropical freshwater waters, which can cause severe damage to numerous organs. Amoebic dysentery is a serious diarrheal disease. Some roundworms can cause anemia.

New active ingredients against infections

Research into innovative active ingredients and the development of drugs are crucial prerequisites for medical progress and good health. There is also a need for new active ingredients in the area of ​​infectious diseases. In order to bring the innovative ideas from research even better to the patients, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has launched the “National Active Substance Initiative”. As part of this initiative, research and development in the field of anti-infective drugs, especially antibiotic resistance, are to be strengthened. The aim is to continue to provide patients with high-quality, innovative drugs in the future.
Drug development

German-African networks

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding five German-African networks in order to intensively research diseases that particularly endanger people in Africa. The majority of the projects are devoted to poverty-related infectious diseases such as tuberculosis or parasitic worm diseases. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are also part of the research program. All projects also aim to expand laboratory and clinic capacities in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

Fungal infections in humans are rare, apart from the common athlete's foot. With the increasing spread of drugs that slow down the immune system, fungi have become more important as pathogens. Diseases caused by infectious protein particles are even rarer. These “prions” were only discovered a few years ago. They are not living beings, but the body's own, incorrectly folded proteins. Among other things, they are considered to be the causative agent of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, a rare degenerative disease of the brain that leads to death.