Germany: Infectious Diseases Spreading as Migrants Settle In

  • A new report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the federal government’s central institution for monitoring and preventing diseases, confirms an across-the-board increase in disease since 2015, when Germany took in an unprecedented number of migrants.
  • Some doctors say the actual number of cases of tuberculosis is far higher than the official figures suggest and have accused the RKI of downplaying the threat in an effort to avoid fueling anti-immigration sentiments.
  • “Around 700,000 to 800,000 applications for asylum were submitted and 300,000 refugees have disappeared. Have they been checked? Do they come from the high-risk countries?” — Carsten Boos, orthopedic surgeon, interview with Focus magazine.

A failed asylum seeker from Yemen who was given sanctuary at a church in northern Germany to prevent him from being deported has potentially infected more than 50 German children with a highly contagious strain of tuberculosis.

The man, who was sheltered at a church in Bünsdorf between January and May 2017, was in frequent contact with the children, some as young as three, who were attending a day care center at the facility. He was admitted to a hospital in Rendsburg in June and subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis — a disease which only recently has re-entered the German consciousness.

Local health authorities say that in addition to the children, parents and teachers as well as parishioners are also being tested for the disease, which can develop months or even years after exposure. It remains unclear if the man received the required medical exams when he first arrived in Germany, or if he is one of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have slipped through the cracks.

The tuberculosis scare has cast a renewed spotlight on the increased risk of infectious diseases in Germany since Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed in around two million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

A new report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the federal government’s central institution for monitoring and preventing diseases, confirms an across-the-board increase in disease since 2015, when Germany took in an unprecedented number of migrants.

The Infectious Disease Epidemiology Annual Report — which was published on July 12, 2017 and provides data on the status of more than 50 infectious diseases in Germany during 2016 — offers the first glimpse into the public health consequences of the massive influx of migrants in late 2015.

The report shows increased incidences in Germany of adenoviral conjunctivitis, botulism, chicken pox, cholera, cryptosporidiosis, dengue fever, echinococcosis, enterohemorrhagic E. coli, giardiasis, haemophilus influenza, Hantavirus, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, HIV/AIDS, leprosy, louse-borne relapsing fever, malaria, measles, meningococcal disease, meningoencephalitis, mumps, paratyphoid, rubella, shigellosis, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, trichinellosis, tuberculosis, tularemia, typhus and whooping cough.

Germany has — so far at least — escaped the worst-case scenario: most of the tropical and exotic diseases brought into the country by migrants have been contained; there have no mass outbreaks among the general population. More common diseases, however, many of which are directly or indirectly linked to mass migration, are on the rise, according to the report.

The incidence of Hepatitis B, for example, has increased by 300% during the last three years, according to the RKI. The number of reported cases in Germany was 3,006 in 2016, up from 755 cases in 2014. Most of the cases are said to involve unvaccinated migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The incidence of measles in Germany jumped by more than 450% between 2014 and 2015, while the number of cases of chicken pox, meningitis, mumps, rubella and whooping cough were also up. Migrants also accounted for at least 40% of the new cases of HIV/AIDS identified in Germany since 2015, according to a separate RKI report.

The RKI statistics may be just the tip of the iceberg. The number of reported cases of tuberculosis, for example, was 5,915 in 2016, up from 4,488 cases in 2014, an increase of more than 30% during that period. Some doctors, however, believe that the actual number of cases of tuberculosis is far higher and have accused the RKI of downplaying the threat in an effort to avoid fueling anti-immigration sentiments.

In an interview with Focus, Carsten Boos, an orthopedic surgeon, warned that German authorities have lost track of hundreds of thousands of migrants who may be infected. He added that 40% of all tuberculosis pathogens are multidrug-resistant and therefore inherently dangerous to the general population:

“When asylum seekers come from countries with a high risk for tuberculosis infections, the RKI, as the highest German body for infection protection, should not downplay the danger. Is a federal institute using political correctness to conceal the unpleasant reality?

“The media reports that in 2015, the federal police registered about 1.1 million refugees. Around 700,000 to 800,000 applications for asylum were submitted and 300,000 refugees have disappeared. Have they been checked? Do they come from the high risk countries?

“One has the impression that, in the RKI, the left hand does not know what the right one is doing.”

Joachim Gauck, then Germany’s president, speaks to doctors in the infirmary of a reception center for migrants on August 26, 2015 in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Germany. (Photo by Jesco Denzel/Bundesregierung via Getty Images)

German newspapers have published a flurry of articles about the public health dimension of the migrant crisis. The articles often quote medical professionals with first-hand experience of treating migrants. Many admit that mass migration has increased the risk of infectious diseases in Germany.

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About the author

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.  Follow Soeren Kern on Twitter and Facebook

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