Flu season makes a comeback in Germany

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Flu season makes a comeback in Germany
Doctors are urging people with cold symptoms to take a test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

For two seasons, the flu wave in Germany remained largely absent - but for the past few weeks higher-than-usual case numbers have been reported by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).


The flu wave began in the week ending October 30th, according to the weekly report on acute respiratory diseases which RKI released Wednesday evening.

More than 2,100 cases of influenza have been reported so far this week - and a total of around 8,330 since the start of the season in October. A particularly large number of reports came from Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, according to the report. 

A total of 13 outbreaks with at least five cases were also reported, most of them at schools and Kitas.

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to say and do if you get sick in Germany

The report examined samples from people with acute respiratory illnesses, looking for various pathogens, such as rhinoviruses, Sars-CoV-2 (Covid-19) and influenza. 

A “flu wave” is said to have begun when influenza viruses are detected in every fifth patient sample, wrote the RKI. 

"During the last few months, significantly more incidents of influenza were submitted to the RKI than in the pre-pandemic seasons around this time," the report continued. 

This is probably due, in part, to the recommendation since the start of the pandemic that people with respiratory symptoms should also be tested for influenza viruses, wrote the RKI.


Unusually early start

According to the RKI, the annual flu wave in the years before coronavirus usually began in January and lasted three to four months. 

In the past two seasons, however, the pandemic and the measures taken against it had a major impact on the spread of influenza viruses: in the winter of 2020 and 2021, there was no flu wave worldwide, as is typically the case, stated the RKI. 

Many people could be experiencing 'catch-up' effects and getting sick now. Photo: Getty Images

And between 2021 and 2022, there was no wave on the usual scale in Germany either, with reporting figures only picking up somewhat after the Easter vacations and thus very late by the RKI’s definition.

Whether there could now be a severe wave is difficult to predict, wrote the RKI. 

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill

However, it is "conceivable" that the population is susceptible to the pathogens to an increased extent or in an increased proportion of the population, the RKI website states. 

Other experts in Germany have said they expected there to be so-called catch-up effects. That means that those who have not had a real flu for a while could now be due again.

Who is most likely to get the flu?

Adults usually only get the flu every few years anyway, the Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology, Carsten Watzl, recently told DPA.

"What is colloquially referred to as the flu is usually just a cold," Watzl explained. "With influenza, you can lie flat for a week." 

He said it's likely that more younger children than usual are without immune protection after the past two winters of low flu occurrence - when it is also likely they missed their first flu infections.

In this group, however, the illness is usually not severe, he added.

According to the RKI, the number of infections during a flu epidemic is estimated at five to 20 percent of the population, which corresponds to about four to 16 million people in Germany. 

In other words, not every infected person falls ill. "The number of deaths can vary greatly in individual flu waves, from several hundred to more than 25,000 in the 2017/18 season," the RKI noted. 

Flu vaccines are recommended in Germany for people over 60, pregnant women, the chronically ill, retirement and nursing home residents, and people at increased occupational risk, among others.



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