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Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K.J. Hildenbrand

Rates of notifiable diseases jump 50 percent in Berlin

Alistair Walsh
February 17, 2017

Germany's vaccination rate for the highly contagious measles virus falls well below WHO targets. Authorities are calling for people to stay up to date with their vaccinations.


The number of cases of severe diseases in Germany's capital jumped from 13,418 in 2010 to 20,165 in 2016 the State Office for Health and Social Affairs confirmed to Deutsche Welle on Friday.

Health department figures published by regional daily "Berliner Morgenpost" and confirmed by the department, showed cases of diseases which doctors are legally obliged to report to authorities were on the rise.

Notifiable diseases in Germany include 18 illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV.

The figures revealed childhood illnesses that are vaccine-preventable were also on the rise in Berlin. 

  • Whooping cough cases  rose from 465 in 2013 to 1025. 
  • Measles cases rose from 92 in 2010 to 1243 in 2015 before dropping to 75 in 2016. 
  • Mumps cases rose from 36 in 2010 to 55 in 2016. 
  • Chickenpox cases rose from 562 in 2010 to 2115 in 2016.

A government organization responsible for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), told "Berliner Morgenpost" that adolescents and young adults in particular were missing the necessary booster vaccines.

Germany lags behind on vaccination rates

In January the institute announced that 28,000 children in Germany were not vaccinated against measles, including 7,300 children in Berlin. It said Germany was lagging behind the rest of Europe in the eradication of measles.

The RKI published a survey that found vaccination rates of measles in Germany fell well below target levels. The World Health Organization's indicator for the successful eradication of measles requires a vaccination rate of at least 95 percent for both inoculations. The RKI survey found in 2012 that just 86 percent of infants had their second measles shot before turning 36 months old.

The highly contagious airborne virus causes fever, coughing, runny nose, inflamed eyes and often characteristic white spots inside the mouth, known as Koplik's spots. This is followed by a rash that starts on the face and then spreads.

In 2015, Berlin was hit with a widespread outbreak of the virus, causing the death of an unvaccinated toddler. The outbreak of more than 1,000 cases reignited debate on compulsory vaccination.

This thin-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed the ultrastructural appearance of a single virus particle, or
Infants generally can not be vaccincated against the virus before the age of 12 months, so they rely on herd immunityImage: Courtesy of C. S. Goldsmith; William Bellini, Ph.D./CDC/dpa/Montage: DW

Measles outbreak

Doctors in Berlin discovered 19 cases of measles in the past weeks, prompting calls to vaccinate children against the preventable disease.

The outbreaks centered around the northwest district of Reinickendorf, particularly around the large social housing estate of Märkisches Viertel.

Health senator Dilek Kolat called on Berliners to check their vaccination status, saying it was not just a harmless children's disease, but one that could lead to serious complications and death.

"I urge parents to have their children vaccinated," Christian Health Policy leader Gottfried Ludewig, told Berlin daily "Der Tagesspiegel. "They are responsible not only for their child, but also for those with whom their child comes into contact."

He added that schools and day-care centers could make attendance conditional on vaccination, a policy supported by health politician Florian Kluckert from the pro-business FDP and health researcher Herbert Mohr from the populist AfD.

On Wednesday, the health authority in Reinickendorf announced that a nine-month-old child with measles could have infected multiple people in a doctor's waiting room, including unvaccinated nursing staff.

Health director of the Reinickendorf district, Patrick Larscheid, told Berlin daily "Berliner Zeitung" he was shocked that the nursing staff did not have adequate vaccination. That makes you speechless."

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