Heat deaths in Germany: heat wave with a dark shadow


On extremely hot days, around a third more people die than usual. Heat deaths are often not referred to as such in the statistics.

People lie on the beach in the heat, behind them a squad of firefighters with first-aid equipment

The heat causes problems for everyone, including the helpers from the fire brigade Photo: Christian Charisius/dpa

The summer of 2022 is a summer of extremes. Temperatures sometimes rose to over 40 degrees, and there is so little water flowing in the rivers – not only in Germany – that wrecks that have long since submerged are reappearing. And more people are dying than usual: especially on the very hot days in July and August, several hundred people have apparently fallen victim to the heat. Overall, there are likely to have been around 10,000 heat deaths this summer. This can be calculated from current figures from the Federal Statistical Office.

Already two weeks ago the federal statisticians had pointed out the conspicuously high number of deaths in July. This was most extreme in calendar week 29, i.e. between July 18th and 24th. In this week, in which the thermometer climbed to over 40 degrees in many places in Germany and the German Weather Service new All-time records reported in several federal states24 percent more people died than would have been expected.

The provisional ones are now in place Death counts for each day up to August 7th before. If you compare the temperatures given by the German Weather Service, a clear picture emerges: on particularly hot days, hundreds more people die than usual.

Every time the average daily mean temperature in Germany has risen sharply over the past few weeks, excess mortality has also shot up. This is particularly evident on the three hottest days: On July 20, 785 more people died than expected. On July 25, there were 810, on August 4, 784. The values ​​are increases of up to 35 percent, around a third more than would have been expected on these days. Due to later arrivals, these numbers could even increase.

Graphic of the correlation between heat deaths and extreme temperatures

Even in the corona pandemic, similarly extreme values ​​were only reached during what was by far the deadliest wave in January 2021. On Monday, the Robert Koch Institute counted around 800 corona deaths again – but in a week, not in a day.

However, the heat deaths now calculated cannot simply be equated with the number of corona deaths. The latter are confirmed cases reported to the Robert Koch Institute. Heat deaths, on the other hand, can only be estimated by calculating excess mortality.

This is based on a simple idea. In Germany, around 2,350 people have died on average every day in the summers of recent years. If more deaths are registered on individual days or over longer periods of time, this is referred to as excess mortality. The respective reason for this cannot be found in the death statistics, one has to look for it elsewhere. But sometimes it is obvious.

That was about the spring of 2018. At that time, many more people died within a few weeks than expected. The Robert Koch Institute later calculated from this that 25,100 people died that winter as a result of the flu epidemic, which was particularly violent at the time. Only around 1,700 flu victims were medically certified. As there is no other explanation for excess mortality, all were attributed to influenza.

It is similar now with the heat deaths. Most of them also lack a medical certificate that could be recorded in any statistics. But the overall effect is obvious. In June there were a good 7,000 more deaths than expected, in July around 11,000, and in the first week of August, which was very hot at times, almost 3,000 more died. It is true that one cannot simply attribute all cases of excess mortality on hot days to the heat wave. But if you put the temperature curve and the excess mortality rate of the past few weeks side by side, there is a clear connection in the course of the graphs.

In addition, the statisticians of the Federal Office can largely rule out the obvious suspicion that Corona could also play a role again. The number of corona deaths rose again slightly in July, but only to such a small extent that they could only partially explain the increased number of deaths during this period.

In addition, the number of deaths has also increased in recent years as a result of heat waves. This year, however, the effect can be illustrated in an unusually large number of weeks.

Temperature rise expected again

Older people are particularly at risk. specially for her the Federal Ministry of Health in a brochure tips put together to cope with the heat: lots of drinking, lots of shade, lots of attention from relatives or neighbors. That sounds banal. But at very high temperatures, the ministry warns, the worst that can happen is heat stroke. And it could be fatal if medical help is not provided immediately.

This danger also looms in the coming days. The German Weather Service expects temperatures to rise again. Especially in the Ruhr area it will be up to 34 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday.



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