Experts predict heavy winter flu toll

Health experts at Berlin's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Friday that Germany is likely to suffer more deaths than usual this winter from the flu virus.

Experts predict heavy winter flu toll
Germany is well below recommended vaccination levels

Silke Buda, leader of the Influenza Working Group at the government disease control centre, said that large numbers of people had fallen ill with the disease this year.

“This is one of the most serious flu outbreaks of recent years,” she said.

So far 40,000 people have been treated for the flu this season, with especially large numbers of people aged 39 to 59 affected.

Vaccinations less effective

The constantly-evolving flu virus is a tough target to pin down for developers of vaccinations.

The type of virus prevalent this year means that even vaccinated patients are not as well protected as during previous outbreaks.

“Despite all our efforts, it's difficult to predict so far in advance the exact subtype of influenza that the vaccination has to counteract,” said Carlos Guzman of Brunswick's Helmholtz Centre for Infectious Disease Research.

Outbreaks of the same strain in the winters of 2012-13 and 2008-09 saw up to 20,000 people die from the infection, although Buda said it was too early to estimate what the toll might be this year.

Most at risk are older people who are already ill.

“The weaker the immune system, the more difficult it is to react properly to a new influenza virus,” Buda said.

Both experts emphasized that it is still important to have flu jabs in autumn, as they offer the best possible protection against a possible infection.

Currently only around 30 percent of people in Germany get themselves vaccinated, far short of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that at least 75 percent of older people be immunized.

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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.