Respiratory diseases: why the numbers are increasing so drastically


(Iconic image) What is behind the drastic increase in respiratory diseases?
Getty Images/ Roos Koole

A report by the Robert Koch Institute shows that the number of respiratory diseases has risen to seven million cases in recent weeks.

While corona and influenza are crucial in adults, infections with the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV for short, are particularly noticeable in children. In many places, even cots in hospitals are becoming scarce.

Jens Lassen, Chairman of the Schleswig-Holstein Association of General Practitioners, also notes that respiratory infections are increasing due to a wide variety of pathogens. According to him, the best way to protect yourself is to follow hygiene measures and get a flu shot.

There is coughing, sniffling and snorting on every corner these days: According to a report by the RKI, acute respiratory diseases are increasing significantly. Children in particular are increasingly being admitted to clinics – so many that beds are becoming scarce in many places. But what is behind this wave of illness?

Respiratory diseases continue to increase

One current evaluation from the Barmer health insurance company shows that sick leave due to respiratory diseases such as corona or the flu has recently increased significantly. In calendar week 36, 200 per 10,000 employees were still on sick leave, in week 40 there were already 410 sick notes per 10,000 employees. The sick notes have therefore more than doubled.

A Weekly report of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows that the number of acute respiratory diseases has risen to seven million cases in the past few weeks. These numbers are well above levels compared to the years prior to the pandemic, the report said. Due to seasonal factors, further increasing numbers are to be expected in the coming weeks.

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“In particular, the positive rate and the number of illnesses caused by influenza show a clearly increasing trend,” writes the RKI. In addition, infections with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) “increasedly lead to diseases and hospital admissions, especially in small children”.

RSV primarily affects young children

The children’s intensive care and emergency physician Florian Hoffmann told the German Press Agency on the development of small children: “It is no longer a curve, but the values ​​go up vertically.” RSV diseases are usually harmless, but infants and small children in particular can fall into life-threatening conditions. Many children have to be partially ventilated.

If RSV can also affect people of any age, children aged one to two years who have not had any contact with the virus are particularly affected – partly due to the hygiene measures during Corona. Normally, 50 to 70 percent would have had at least one infection with RSV within the first year of life and almost all children by the end of the second year of life. In the course of the corona protection measures, however, many such infections were temporarily absent. Patients at risk include premature babies and children with previous lung diseases, but also those with a weakened immune system.

A “dramatic epidemic event”

In several federal states, including Bavaria and Lower Saxony, there is currently hardly any free cot in clinics, explains Hoffmann and also speaks of “disaster conditions”. Families with sick children sometimes have to sleep on bunks in the emergency room. That is a sign of poverty for Germany. There is currently a “dramatic epidemic happening” across the entire northern hemisphere.

“We won’t be able to take care of everyone this winter. Colleagues all over the country don’t know what to do with our little patients,” says Hoffmann. Structures to deal with the situation are not in place and the existing registers for the bed situation are often not up to date due to a lack of time. “We should now actually activate emergency mechanisms, for example call in nursing staff from adult medicine.”

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The infections also increase in adults

General practitioners’ practices are also currently noticing an increased wave of respiratory diseases, confirms Jens Lassen, general practitioner in Leck and chairman of the Schleswig-Holstein General Practitioners’ Association. “Many patients come with a cough, runny nose, hoarseness – but not just a single pathogen is responsible for this.” Among other things, RS viruses are also responsible for the infections, but corona viruses are still responsible. And: “We notice a very early increase in flu cases in our practices.”

In the last few years of the pandemic, there have been some respiratory diseases – partly because of measures such as wearing a mask or keeping your distance. Therefore, the increase in respiratory diseases is now very noticeable in comparison. “At the same time, there will certainly be a certain catch-up effect, since we are no longer quite as cautious as in previous years,” explains Lassen.

How you can protect yourself

Lassen recommends continuing to adhere to hygiene measures to protect yourself from infection, “such as washing your hands regularly or airing them out, which is particularly useful in autumn and winter.”

With the flu vaccination you also have a very good protective measure at hand, says the doctor. “We can only call on our patients, especially the particularly vulnerable groups, to contact their family doctor’s practice now at the latest and get vaccinated.”

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