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Winter illnesses burden Germany's intensive care units

December 17, 2022

A surge in winter infections has reached unprecedented levels in Germany, according to one of the country's leading doctors. The country's intensive care units is struggling under the burden.

Medics treat a patient in intensive care
Authorities said doctors have been threatened over the shortage of beds in children's hospitals in GermanyImage: Jens Büttner/dpa/picture alliance

A leading German doctor says the rate of sickness across the general population is on a level previously unseen, with the country's intensive care units (ICU) under tremendous pressure. 

A huge range of illnesses, many of them respiratory, has inundated Germany's healthcare system, and led to a shortage of medicines. 

What was the warning about?

The president of the German Society for Internal Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, Christian Karagiannidis, said in many regions, almost all ICU beds are occupied,

"The sickness rate across the population is currently extremely high, I have never experienced anything like it," Karagiannidis said, adding that coronavirus was no longer the main problem.  

"At the moment we are fighting a very wide range of illnesses: flu, RS virus, coronavirus and other respiratory diseases, plus the usual emergencies," said Karagiannidis, speaking to the Rheinische Post newspaper.

The doctor said there was also a problem with a lack of certain medicines amid a supply shortage at hospitals. To avoid such situations in the future, he urged the government to intervene and have certain medicines produced so that they are always available in large quantities.

"This will be expensive for the nation, but I find it worrying for a country like Germany that we have had to deal with such shortages again and again for a long time and that this shortage has become particularly acute this year because of the many infections," Karagiannidis said.

Children's hospital staff face violence

Meanwhile, the German Red Cross (DRK) said a shortage of children's beds in hospitals has led to healthcare staff increasingly dealing with threats and violence. 

Germany's children's ward are overwhelmed

DRK President Gerda Hasselfeldt, also speaking to the Rheinische Post, said families were being forced to sit for hours in emergency rooms, and that sick children were staying overnight in hospital corridors.

"There are increasing cases of threats or the actual use of psychological and physical violence against health care personnel," said Hasselfeldt.

The pressure on normal and intensive care beds for youngsters has been particularly exacerbated by the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a commonplace but sometimes dangerous childhood disease.

The reason for the dramatic increase in respiratory diseases is unclear. One theory is that diseases other than COVID-19 are bouncing back because fewer people are wearing masks amid a general relaxation of pandemic rules in comparison with the past two years.

rc/ar (dpa, AFP)