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HEALTH

Flu virus in Germany causes more than 30 deaths and leaves 3,500 in hospital

A flu wave has taken hold in Germany, with more than 30 deaths reported so far. Here's what you need to know.

Flu virus in Germany causes more than 30 deaths and leaves 3,500 in hospital
Photo: DPA

Since the start of the winter season, more than 13,000 cases of flu have been reported and the number of confirmed cases is rising, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Since the start of the season in October 2019, 13,350 cases across the country have been confirmed by laboratory tests. A total of 4,439 cases were reported last week, signalling that flu season is taking hold.

So far, 32 people are known to have died after contracting flu, while more than 3,500 patients have been treated in hospital. In addition, 15 outbreaks in Kindergartens have been reported.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.

Colloquially, colds and flu are often used interchangeably, but the real flu is usually much more severe and occurs when you suddenly feel very sick and experience a combination of fever, headaches, limb pains and a dry cough.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor appointment in Germany

Those at risk from contracting the virus have been urged to get vaccinated against it.

“The wave will continue for several more weeks,” RKI expert Silke Buda told DPA.

The vaccination is recommended for people over the age of 60, the chronically ill, pregnant women as well as doctors and nurses.

Buda said those at risk should get vaccinated quickly.  “It will take up to 14 days until the protection is established,” she said.

The figures show only a snapshot of the full picture. According to RKI estimates, 5 to 20 percent of the population is infected during flu outbreaks. 

Tens of thousands of people can die during violent waves, with mostly senior citizens affected as they are at highest risk of developing a serious illness. The severity of the flu waves vary from year to year. Last winter, the RKI assessed the season as 'moderate'.

Where can I get vaccinated?

According to the Paul Ehrlich Institute, more than 21 million vaccine doses have been administered in Germany so far.

October and November are considered the best time to get vaccinated – before the flu epidemic really takes off. But there's still time if you act quickly.

Contact your local doctor if you want to get the flu shot. Influenza vaccination can be performed by any doctor though it's usually carried out at general medical practices.

Is weather a factor?

According to RKI estimates, the weather can indirectly influence how flu spreads. In very cold weather, people stay longer in closed rooms and dry heating air may make the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection.

Meanwhile, droplets coughed up by patients could float longer in dry room air in cold weather and therefore reach the respiratory mucous membranes of other people over slightly greater distances.

“However, other factors are certainly more important for the severity of a flu epidemic and the number of illnesses, such as the immunity in the population due to previous flu waves,” Buda added.

The surface structures of influenza viruses change from year to year, Tobias Welte, Director of the Department of Pneumology at Hanover Medical School, said.

That means the immune syste faces different challenges. The vaccine must also be adapted to the changed structures every year. One injection every 10 years, as with many other vaccines, is therefore not possible with influenza.

Scientists have long been pursuing the idea of finding other, more efficient approaches internationally, for example a universal vaccine against all influenza viruses.

Welte said that that idea was “a great dream”, but that a lot of work was still needed to make it come true.

Vocabulary

Flu – (die) Grippe

Flu wave/epidemic – (die) Grippewelle

Vaccination – (die) Impfung

Chronically ill people – (die) chronisch Kranken

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

 

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HEALTH

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. 

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