Excess mortality in Germany: Extremely high number of deaths in December


In the week before Christmas, around 7,000 more people than expected died. One reason could be the flu epidemic.

A coffin in a crematorium

An urn grave is the most common form of burial in Germany, crematorium in Rhineland-Palatinate Photo: Thomas Frey/dpa

BERLIN taz | The good news first. The waves of respiratory diseases in Germany abated significantly at the beginning of January. Not only the meanwhile 8th corona wave has clearly lost momentum, and infections with the RS viruses and influenza are also declining sharply. In December, however, they apparently hit hard.

In the week before Christmas alone, around 7,000 more people died than originally expected. This is evident from the numbers published by the Federal Statistical Office on Tuesday. That Institute Euromomo, which analyzes mortality figures in Europe, describes the excess mortality in the penultimate week of December as “extremely high”. This is the highest possible level in the Euromomo scale. No other European country has similar values.

Excess mortality is a statistic used to identify unusual clusters of deaths. For this purpose, the average number of deaths from a comparison period is calculated and compared with current values. According to the Federal Statistical Office, a median of 20,777 people died in the 51st calendar week in the years 2018 to 2021. According to preliminary figures, there were 27,912 in the 51st week of 2022. The excess mortality was around 34 percent.

This is the highest value of 2022. Even in summer, when the number of deaths from the heat waves rose sharply in Julythe excess mortality was only a maximum of 24 percent.

The reason for the significantly increased number of deaths can currently only be guessed at. In the first two years of the corona pandemic, the death rate had climbed to a record level on or shortly before Christmas. According to the Robert Koch Institute, up to 6,000 corona deaths per week were counted at the end of 2021. A year later there were around 2,500.

In December 2022, however, the RKI registered significantly fewer corona victims – according to preliminary figures, there were around 800 per week. Corona alone can hardly be responsible for the extreme data.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that the conventional flu epidemic has claimed many victims. It started unusually early this winter at the end of October and reached its peak in mid-December. In this context, “the number of secondary bacterial infections, some with severe disease progression” has increased, says the latest weekly report from the Influenza Working Group. According to this, around twice as many influenza patients had to go to the hospital in mid-December as Covid 19 patients.

Whether the influenza was actually responsible for the extreme number of deaths can only be seen in retrospect. This is not uncommon with flu waves. After the last violent wave that hit Germany in spring 2018, the RKI later estimated the number of victims at 25,000. This value was also calculated on the basis of the excess mortality observed. During the wave, only around 1,600 victims were confirmed by laboratory results.



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