Flu season has started, especially early this year. At the same time, many people continue to become infected with the corona virus. Experts warn of an extreme burden on the clinics, and family doctors are also reaching their limits.

The flu is here. For a few weeks now, people in Germany have been increasingly infected with the influenza pathogen – and thus much earlier than in the years before Corona. For this reason, general practitioners and intensive care physicians fear a heavy burden on practices and clinics. Because people continue to get infected with Corona, and in many cases they have to be treated by doctors or even as inpatients.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had dated the start of the flu epidemic this year to the week ending October 30. Since the beginning of the month, the institute has recorded around 8,000 cases, around 1,000 of which had to be treated in hospital. Cases are rising week by week, according to the weekly report.

Before Corona, the annual flu wave usually started in January and lasted three to four months. In the past two seasons, however, the corona pandemic and the measures taken to counteract it have changed the usual course significantly:

That could change this year, however. Because many of the corona measures that applied in the past two years are no longer applicable. In retail, for example, there is no longer an obligation to wear a mask that not only wards off corona but also influenza viruses. And the hygiene measures taken during the pandemic are no longer being given the same attention that they were a year or two ago.

In addition, many people no longer had any contact with influenza viruses, and their body’s defenses may not be able to react optimally to an infection. Double infections, i.e. with both pathogens at the same time, are also possible.

Warnings of a double wave were already being raised last year, and there was even talk of a double pandemic, also known as “Twindemic”. So what is looming in the coming weeks and months? Even experts cannot yet answer this question with certainty. For example, the Robert Koch Institute said at the request of FOCUS online: “Prognoses on the course of the flu wave are generally not possible.”

However, intensive care physician Christian Karagiannidis, who is also a member of the Federal Government’s Corona Expert Council, considers it very unrealistic that the flu wave will almost fail for a third time. He told the “Spiegel”: “Without the obligation to wear a mask and other measures, there will be a wave of influenza in addition to Corona, no question”. Then the winter for the hospitals would be “really an extreme challenge”. A possible double wave could “become a toxic mixture,” he warned. “Some of the patients are in the emergency room for 20 hours because the normal wards don’t have the capacity to take them in.” The system “simply has no more resilience”.

Charité infectiologist Leif-Erik Sander also fears “massive stress” for patients and staff in the event of overcrowded emergency rooms and waiting times. He emphasized to the “Spiegel” that there had already been serious employee absences in many clinics.

“We’re not talking about the apocalypse here,” said the virologist Florian Krammer in the “Spiegel” a little less dramatic. He does not believe in overlapping waves – but emphasized: “The system could be heavily used.” The German Hospital Society also warned of this. “A strong wave of influenza, the increase in other respiratory diseases and continued high corona numbers lead to considerable isolation efforts in hospitals and can result in staff shortages,” said CEO Gerald Gass to the editorial network Germany (RND). “This would then also affect the supply.”

According to the association’s chairman, Beier, Germany’s general practitioners are also at their breaking point. “The practices have been working at full capacity for almost three years now,” he told the RND. Hospitals are often the focus of public attention, but family doctors and practice teams are also exhausted.

The experts are therefore calling for vaccinations: “We have been advertising and working for months to significantly increase the vaccination rates for flu vaccinations,” said Beier. In recent years, this has been around 40 percent among those over 60, and recently slightly higher. “From our point of view, that is not enough. Unfortunately, the impression from the practices so far is not that the vaccination rate will increase significantly this year.”

It is “immensely important” that the flu vaccination is used by as many people as possible, especially by those who are at risk, emphasized hospital doctor Gass.

experts advise

make an appointment in your doctor’s office as soon as possible. A flu vaccination can also be useful for younger people: For example,

At the same time, vaccination against Sars-Cov-2 remains important. All people in Germany should take the protective and booster vaccinations relevant to their respective risk group.