Flu virus in Germany causes more than 30 deaths and leaves 3,500 in hospital

Flu virus in Germany causes more than 30 deaths and leaves 3,500 in hospital
Photo: DPA

A flu wave has taken hold in Germany, with more than 30 deaths reported so far. Here's what you need to know.


Since the start of the winter season, more than 13,000 cases of flu have been reported and the number of confirmed cases is rising, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Since the start of the season in October 2019, 13,350 cases across the country have been confirmed by laboratory tests. A total of 4,439 cases were reported last week, signalling that flu season is taking hold.

So far, 32 people are known to have died after contracting flu, while more than 3,500 patients have been treated in hospital. In addition, 15 outbreaks in Kindergartens have been reported.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.

Colloquially, colds and flu are often used interchangeably, but the real flu is usually much more severe and occurs when you suddenly feel very sick and experience a combination of fever, headaches, limb pains and a dry cough.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor appointment in Germany

Those at risk from contracting the virus have been urged to get vaccinated against it.

"The wave will continue for several more weeks," RKI expert Silke Buda told DPA.

The vaccination is recommended for people over the age of 60, the chronically ill, pregnant women as well as doctors and nurses.

Buda said those at risk should get vaccinated quickly.  "It will take up to 14 days until the protection is established," she said.

The figures show only a snapshot of the full picture. According to RKI estimates, 5 to 20 percent of the population is infected during flu outbreaks. 

Tens of thousands of people can die during violent waves, with mostly senior citizens affected as they are at highest risk of developing a serious illness. The severity of the flu waves vary from year to year. Last winter, the RKI assessed the season as 'moderate'.

Where can I get vaccinated?

According to the Paul Ehrlich Institute, more than 21 million vaccine doses have been administered in Germany so far.

October and November are considered the best time to get vaccinated – before the flu epidemic really takes off. But there's still time if you act quickly.

Contact your local doctor if you want to get the flu shot. Influenza vaccination can be performed by any doctor though it's usually carried out at general medical practices.

Is weather a factor?

According to RKI estimates, the weather can indirectly influence how flu spreads. In very cold weather, people stay longer in closed rooms and dry heating air may make the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection.

Meanwhile, droplets coughed up by patients could float longer in dry room air in cold weather and therefore reach the respiratory mucous membranes of other people over slightly greater distances.

"However, other factors are certainly more important for the severity of a flu epidemic and the number of illnesses, such as the immunity in the population due to previous flu waves," Buda added.

The surface structures of influenza viruses change from year to year, Tobias Welte, Director of the Department of Pneumology at Hanover Medical School, said.

That means the immune syste faces different challenges. The vaccine must also be adapted to the changed structures every year. One injection every 10 years, as with many other vaccines, is therefore not possible with influenza.

Scientists have long been pursuing the idea of finding other, more efficient approaches internationally, for example a universal vaccine against all influenza viruses.

Welte said that that idea was "a great dream", but that a lot of work was still needed to make it come true.


Flu - (die) Grippe

Flu wave/epidemic - (die) Grippewelle

Vaccination - (die) Impfung

Chronically ill people - (die) chronisch Kranken

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