After a slow start the European Croaking Contest is finally making headlines but it’s the poor performance of Germany that’s puzzling commentators.
The German Problem
The leader board for the European Croaking Contest shows Germany lagging well behind in bronze position.
Their poor performance may be down to their late January start.
The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have been transmitted to Germany on 27 January 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Bavaria. The majority of the COVID-19 cases in January and early February originated from the headquarters of a car parts manufacturer in Bavaria and, seemingly, from there to Northern Italy, where the company has offices, based on phylogenetic analysis of viral DNA.
Later, new clusters were introduced by travellers from Italy, China and Iran.
On 25 and 26 February, following the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, multiple cases related to the Italian outbreak were detected in Baden-Württemberg.
Other cases, which were not related to the Italian clusters, occurred in multiple regions including Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.
A specific cluster formed in Heinsberg was linked to the Carnival in Gangelt.
Currently, the largest number of COVID-19 cases in Germany are in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The German Death Count was stuck at zero for about six weeks.
The first deaths, a 89-year-old woman in Essen and a 78-year-old man in Heinsberg, were reported on 9 March.
Unfortunately, the German results are mired in controversy.
On the one hand:
The detailed data shows 10,999 cases and 20 deaths.
On the other hand:
The leader board data shows 15,320 cases and 44 deaths.
Unsurprisingly, rumours are circulating that cheating is rampant.
The rumours are underlined by the highly variable Death Rates.
Wherever the truth may lie it’s apparent that every region in Europe is trailing a long way behind Lombardy which is heading towards 18,000 cases and 2,000 deaths.
Finding an explanation for the Lombardy data is a challenge.
The Death Rates for Lombardy and Wuhan are continental outliers.
Lombardy and Wuhan both have air pollution problems.
But most significantly:
Lombardy and Piedmont contain “important clusters” of silicosis.
Silicosis is a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. It is marked by inflammation and scarring in the form of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. It is a type of pneumoconiosis.
Silicosis (particularly the acute form) is characterized by shortness of breath, cough, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin). It may often be misdiagnosed as pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), pneumonia, or tuberculosis.
Silicosis resulted in 46,000 deaths globally in 2013 down from 55,000 deaths in 1990.
The name silicosis (from the Latin silex, or flint) was originally used in 1870 by Achille Visconti (1836–1911), prosector in the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan.
4590 deaths from silicosis were observed in eleven years, 98% of them among men. The average age at death was 79.8 years.
In fact, the historical presence of mining activities can be found in many important clusters, as in Piedmont in the Canavese area (mining and processing of gneiss rock, with over 30% of silica and talc) and in Chisone Valley (graphite extraction, talc mining and milling); in Lombardy in Bormio (quarries of quartzite and granite, both rocks with a high silica content, and gneiss); in Trentino-South Tyrol (porphyry quarries, with a silica content equal to 30-35%); in Tuscany in Scarlino (processing of titanium minerals) and Piazza al Serchio (silver mines); in Marche (sulphur removal); in Apulia (extraction of bauxite at Ugento); in Sicily (sulphur mine in Assoro); in Sardinia (coal mining in Buggerru, bauxite and granite in Orotelli).
Silicosis mortality in Italy: Temporal Trends 1990-2012 and Spatial Patterns 2000-2012
Giada Minelli, Amerigo Zona, Fulvio Cavariani, Pietro Comba and Roberto Pasetto
Annali dell’Istituto superiore di sanita 53(4):275-282 – October 2017