I installed version 0.49 from Debian. I had to purge version 0.47 (from
Ubuntu) first. That way I could update the index. So the following steps
worked for me: purge the Ubuntu package, then install the Debian

The answer of knarf on ubuntuforums.org says:
"The xapian index is used for the search box in synaptic. If you can live 
without that functionality you can purge the apt-xapian-index package"

I found that I don't need the quick search function of synaptic provided by the 
apt-xapian-index package as much as I need the 145 MB of disk space that the 
index uses, so I removed the package.
The removal of the package affected only the quick search box. The search 
button is still there in synaptic and that is enough for me.

Thank you for your advice, QkiZ!

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  update-apt-xapian-index crashed with UnicodeDecodeError in record():
  'utf-8' codec can't decode byte 0xe3 in position 349: invalid
  continuation byte

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