2 swine flu deaths in Germany

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Two swine flu deaths in Germany

After the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the swine flu pandemic over in summer, two people in Lower Saxony have now died of the consequences of an infection with the H1N1 virus.

Swine flu claims two lives in Göttingen A three-year-old girl and a 51-year-old man with previous illnesses have died from the consequences of a swine flu infection at the University Hospital Göttingen, according to the Lower Saxony Ministry of Social Affairs. Although the WHO officially declared the swine flu pandemic over in August, so that the H1N1 pathogen no longer has the highest alarm level, the WHO had nevertheless warned the global health authorities to be vigilant, as the pathogen is again this winter can occur. With the beginning of the annual flu season, the number of detected flu viruses has increased significantly since the end of December 2010, whereby according to the information from the Lower Saxony State Health Office, the swine flu virus H1N1 was found in most tests. The flu wave is expected to peak at the end of January or February, according to the President of the State Health Office, Matthias Pulz.

The Lower Saxony Minister of Health Aygül Özkan (CDU) therefore once again called on the population to protect themselves with a flu vaccination. This year's vaccine also includes a component that protects against swine flu, so that extra protection is no longer necessary. Vaccination protection can also be established in good time before the flu wave begins, the minister said. The current deaths, however, offer "no reason to panic", as the ministry spokesman Thomas Spieker added. However, the tragic cases in Göttingen show "that influenza is not a harmless disease, but can also be severe," said Aygül Özkan, Minister of Health for Lower Saxony.

Health authorities call for vaccinations The influenza working group at the Robert Koch Institute also called the population for vaccinations at the beginning of the flu season, although swine flu only played a minor role, because experts believe that common influenza is far more dangerous. Christian Meyer from the Bernhard Nocht Institute (BNI) for tropical medicine in Hamburg shares this position and explains that the importance of swine flu has been overestimated. Only the vaccine manufacturers benefited from the excitement last winter, the expert said. "Given the discrepancy in the millions between the number of vaccine doses purchased and those actually administered, one has to say that swine flu was definitely a huge loss," emphasized Meyer. The expert is of the opinion that the common flu viruses are far more dangerous this winter, too, because 10,000 to 12,000 people in Germany would die each year from the effects of common influenza. The Hamburg-based tropical medicine specialist therefore also recommends flu vaccination, especially for high-risk patients over the age of 60. Experience shows that the peak of the wave of diseases is only reached in January / February, so that it is “not too late for a vaccination (…),” explained Meyer.

Concerns in the population about flu vaccinations According to official information from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 18,400 people in around 200 countries worldwide have been killed by the H1N1 virus since the swine flu broke out in spring 2009. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), over 226,000 swine flu cases were reported in Germany between autumn 2009 and August 2010, with 258 of the patients dying as a result of the disease. However, the RKI experts estimate the actual number of infections many times higher. The number of diseases in Germany had peaked in autumn and winter 2009. However, in spite of detailed requests from the health authorities and the immediate introduction of a vaccine in Germany, the vaccination rates in the population were relatively low at only about eight percent.

However, the hesitation of the Germans does not appear to be entirely unfounded in view of the fierce criticism of many experts regarding the way the World Health Organization deals with swine flu. It was not only the Hamburg-based tropical medicine specialist Meyer who judged WHO's behavior to be excessive, since the size of the pandemic was far less than initially assumed. There was also criticism that some of the authors who had contributed to the WHO guidelines on dealing with the swine flu pandemic also received money from pharmaceutical companies such as "GlaxoSmithKline" and "Roche". Since the potentiators in the vaccine that was finally introduced also caused considerable side effects in numerous patients, the reservations in the population regarding the vaccinations seem to be well founded.

Vaccination against flu when traveling to the southern hemisphere However, the criticism was always rejected by the WHO and the WHO special advisor Keiji Fukuda once again warned urgently against the trivialization of the H1N1 pathogen. “You can say that the countries in the northern hemisphere feel that it's over now. But there is a lot of discussion in the southern hemisphere, ”said Fukuda. Because even though the pandemic has ended, "the virus is still there," emphasized the expert. According to the Hamburg-based tropical medicine specialist Meyer, the shift in the seasons between the two hemispheres should also be taken into account. Germans who want to travel to the southern hemisphere in the summer months should therefore be vaccinated against flu, said Meyer and added: "The flu vaccination is not one of the most important vaccinations for travel." Given the skepticism that has grown among the population in the wake of the swine flu pandemic last year, it must be questioned whether the Germans will increasingly follow the call for vaccination. So far, vaccination rates have remained at a very modest level. (fp)

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Slight fever is no reason to panic
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Image: Gerd Altmann / pixelio.de

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