More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany, says ministry

The German Health Ministry is predicting that the monkeypox virus could spread further - but says the risk to the population is still low.

The monkeypox virus
The monkeypox virus. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/CDC via AP | Cynthia S. Goldsmith

“Due to the diverse contacts of those currently infected, further cases of the disease are to be expected in Europe and also in Germany,” the ministry wrote in a report for the parliamentary health committee obtained by DPA. 

The rare disease, which is normally localised in West Africa, has recently emerged in Europe, Canada and Australia – though case numbers are still extremely low.  

“It is now an illness that has spread internationally,” the ministry report states. 

As of Sunday, there were four confirmed cases of infection and illness in Germany – one in Munich and three in Berlin. Health authorities are now attempting to analyse samples from further suspected cases and trace the contacts of confirmed cases.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases worldwide, including in 12 countries where the virus isn’t usually present. 

So far, the West African monkeypox variant has been detected in the infections found in Europe, but further genome analyses are still underway. 

None of the cases in Europe are thought to have been severe, and symptoms generally clear up within three weeks. However, to help contain the disease, people who notice any skin lesions – a key symptom of monkeypox – are advised to see their doctor straight away. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) revealed on Monday that his ministry was in the process formulating guidelines to help contain the spread of the illness.

These guidelines. are likely to be released on Tuesday. 

In the UK and Belgium, people with a confirmed case of monkeypox are being asked to isolate for 21 days.

READ ALSO: Germany reports first monkeypox case

‘Usually mild’

According to health authorities, the virus usually causes only mild symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle pain and skin rash. However, more severe courses of the illness are possible. 

Unlike viruses such as Covid-19, which can spread through the air, very close contact with an infected person is required in order for monkeypox to be passed on. 

Experts have noted that many of the individuals who were confirmed to have the virus in Europe said they had recently had sexual contact with a new partner, which raises the likelihood that the recent monkeypox cases were transmitted sexually.

Given the limited ways the disease can spread and the tendency towards a mild course of disease, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is currently classifying the risk to the population as a whole as “low”. 

However, under the Infection Protection Act, doctors and laboratories are still required to track any insistences of the disease and pass information on to the public health authorities. 

Health experts are still investigating whether vaccination for contact persons or risk groups could be advisable. 

The Health Ministry believes that smallpox vaccinations, which were compulsory for children in West Germany until 1975 and in East Germany until 1982, could be effective against the disease.

According to the report, the German government has about 100 million doses of smallpox vaccine in storage.

Of these, two million doses were donated to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and stored for them. 

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German health insurance costs set to rise next year

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wants to raise additional contributions for statutory health insurance organisations in 2023.

German health insurance costs set to rise next year

The move means that the millions of people who have statutory health insurance (GKV) in Germany will likely face a significant rise in additional contributions next year. 

Health Minister Lauterbach (SPD) said on Tuesday the additional contributions would rise by 0.3 percentage points to 1.6 per cent.

If the increase goes ahead as planned, it could mean top earners with statutory health insurance would have to pay up to €87 extra per year, and average earners (bringing in around €4,000 gross per month) around €72 more, according to a calculation by German daily Bild

At the moment the cost of statutory public health insurance in Germany amounts to 14.6 percent of gross income. For employees, the employer pays half of the contribution rate.

READ ALSO: How can I change my health insurance provider in Germany?

The health insurance funds can levy additional contributions. The average additional contribution rate is is calculated annually by the Health Ministry and based on the projected expenses of health insurers. 

The average is 1.3 percent for 2022, but varies from fund to fund. If the additional contribution now rises to an average of 1.6 per cent, the health insurance overall contribution rate will exceed 16 percent of people’s wages for the first time.

Why are the additional contributions rising?

Lauterbach said statutory health insurance organisations are facing a deficit of about €17 billion next year. 

The Health Minister said in a tweet: “Unfortunately, the contribution rate has to increase by 0.3. The deficit is too large: €17 billion.”

He added that pharmaceutical industry was “making the biggest solidarity contribution” because their “turnover increased very strongly”.

The government hopes that the increase of the additional contribution will generate additional revenue for the health insurance funds of almost €5 billion.

Health insurance organisations will also receive a further federal subsidy – i.e. tax money – of €2 billion, to a total of €16.5 billion, plus a loan of €1 billion.

Meanwhile, there are also plans for a one-off solidarity levy of €1 billion from pharmaceutical companies, and another €3 billion is planned to be saved through efficiency improvements.

“I have essentially inherited this deficit from my predecessor,” Lauterbach said, referring to former Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU). 

Lauterbach’s proposal will now be voted on by the ministries. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) has already agreed to the plans.

Several health insurance organisations recently increased their contribution rates, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic began.


Additional contributions (die) Zusatzbeiträge

Steigen – to increase

Additional revenue – (die) Mehreinnahmen

Statutory public health insurance – (die) Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung

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