Monkeypox: German health expert calls for isolation measures

People infected with monkeypox should go into isolation, according to the President of the German Medical Association.

An ambulance drives in the grounds of Freiburg University Hospital where one patient with monkeypox is being treated.
An ambulance drives in the grounds of Freiburg University Hospital where one patient with monkeypox is being treated. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

Klaus Reinhardt said he believed there should be an isolation period for those who contract monkeypox, a rare virus, which is normally found in West Africa, but which has recently emerged in Europe, Canada and Australia.

Reinhardt said the incubation period for the virus is three weeks. “That means that already a number of infected people don’t know it yet and so can spread the disease further,” Reinhardt told Südwestrundfunk radio on Tuesday.

In the UK and Belgium, people who have monkeypox are being asked to isolate for 21 days.

Six cases of monkeypox have been registered in Germany so far. The Health Ministry said it expects more cases to surface. 

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox in Germany expected, says Health Ministry

According to authorities, the virus usually causes only mild symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle pain and skin rash, although severe cases can occur. People who notice any skin lesions – a key symptom of monkeypox – are advised to see their doctor straight away. 

One patient with the virus is being treated in isolation at Freiburg University Hospital. Authorities said the patient had recently returned from Spain and his condition is stable.  

Cases have also been detected elsewhere in the country, including Munich and Berlin. 

Reinhardt, who is the head of the German Medical Association, said he believed vulnerable groups should be vaccinated. Smallpox vaccinations are said to be very effective against monkeypox. 

The German government said it was looking at options for vaccinations.

However, Reinhardt said there was no reason for people in Germany to panic. Unlike coronavirus, which spreads via airborne particles and droplets, monkeypox is transmitted primarily through close physical contact. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), together with Reinhardt and the President of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, were set to give an update on the situation on Monday. It’s expected that guidelines on how to deal with the virus will be released. 

Experts say 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.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it believes there is no need for mass vaccinations against monkeypox.

The most important measures to combat the outbreak are tracing contacts and isolating infected people, said Richard Pebody, head of the pathogens team at WHO Europe. He added that vaccine stocks are relatively limited.

Measures such as “safe sexual behaviour, good hygiene, regular hand washing – all these sorts of things will help to limit the transmission of this virus” added Pebody.

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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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