Glossary of flu terms in German and EnglishThe annual flu season usually reaches its peak in Europe in late winter. As part of our series on infectious diseases, we have put together a German-English glossary of influenza terms.

The flu virus

Influenza or ‘the flu’ is caused by an influenza virus. Flu viruses mutate and spread around the world each year. Flu viruses are mainly transmitted by droplets that are passed from person to person through the air or by direct or indirect contact.

Data on flu in Europe is collated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Flu News Europe.

In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) updates its flu map each week based on the latest figures for acute respiratory illness. Reporting of influenza is only mandatory in Germany for laboratory-diagnosed cases and clinically confirmed disease (see RKI information on notifiable diseases in Germany, page 63/64).

The RKI Arbeitsgemeinschaft Influenza provides a glossary in German of terms relating to influenza. For a similar glossary in English, see the Glossary of Influenza (Flu) Terms by the Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention.

German English Notes
akute respiratorische Erkrankung (f.); ARE acute respiratory illness (ARI) The term acute respiratory illness (ARI) is a broader description than influenza-like illness (ILI) to describe illness consistent with influenza, because fever is not required under this definition
Europäische Gesundheitsbehörde (ECDE) European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDE)
Grippevirus (n.); Influenzavirus (n.) flu virus; influenza virus
Weltgesundheitsorganisation (WHO) World Health Organisation (WHO)

Cold or flu? Symptoms and diagnosis

Colds and flu are caused by different viruses. If someone says, “I have the flu”, in many cases they only have a cold, which is less severe.

1. A cold (in German: Erkältung/grippaler Infekt)

A cold is a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms may include a runny nose (rhinitis), sneezing, cough, sore throat and raised temperature.

2. Influenza/the flu (in German: Grippe)

Flu tends to start suddenly. Symptoms include fatigue, a dry cough, headache, muscle or body ache and often fever. Some people develop complications, especially young children. These can include pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Some symptoms of flu such as cough and fatigue may persist for a few weeks.

German English Notes
akutes Lungenversagen (n.) acute respiratory distress syndrome
Atemwegsinfekt (m.) Respiratory (tract) infection These may be upper or lower respiratory (tract) infections
Bagatellerkrankung (f.) minor ailment A mild disease that does not usually lead to complications and is treated symptomatically
Bronchitis (f.) bronchitis
Erkältung (f.); grippaler Infekt (m.) a cold For notes on the German terms, see: (in German)
Gelenkschmerzen (pl.) joint pain (sing.)
Gliederschmerzen (pl.) body ache(s) (sing. or pl.)
Grippe (f.); Influenza (f.) influenza/the flu
Halsschmerzen (pl.) sore throat (sing.)
Heiserkeit (f.) hoarseness
Husten (m.) cough
Kopfschmerzen (pl.) headache (sing.)
Lungenentzündung (f.); Pneumonie (f.) pneumonia
Muskelschmerzen (pl.) muscle pain (sing.)/myalgia
Schnupfen (f.) runny nose/rhinitis


You can find more terminology relating to viral infections in our German-English glossary of Zika virus terms.

Colds and flu: treatment

Treatment depends on the symptoms. Flu can usually be treated at home – see the UK NHS information on treating flu for more details. Individuals may need to visit their doctor if they need a fit note/doctor’s note from their GP, if their symptoms get worse or if they are at risk of becoming more seriously ill. This includes people aged over 65 and children and adults with an underlying health condition.


People in at-risk groups may be treated with antiviral medication, such as a neuraminidase inhibitor. If taken within 36 to 48 hours after the first symptoms of flu, these medications can relieve symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. Antivirals must be prescribed by a doctor.

Antibiotics – not for colds and flu

Antibiotics are not prescribed for flu as they are used to treat bacterial infections, not viruses. They may be prescribed for a secondary infection that occurs during or after infection with the flu virus, such as pneumonia. In Europe, antibiotics must be prescribed by a doctor.

German English Notes
apothekenpflichtige Arzneimittel (pl.) pharmacy medicines (pl.) Medicines that may only be supplied in a pharmacy
frei verkäufliche Arzneimittel (pl.) over-the-counter (OTC) medicines/general sale list (GSL) medicines (pl.) Medicines that are available without a prescription and without the supervision of a pharmacist, for example, at supermarkets
Hausarzt (m.); Hausärztin (f.) Family doctor/general practitioner/GP Also primary care physician (US)/primary care provider. In the US, the term ‘general practitioner’ is not necessarily synonymous with ‘family doctor’ or ‘family physician’, see:
Hausmittel (n.) Home remedies Traditional remedies such as honey and lemon or hot and cold compresses
Krankschreibung (f.) Fit note/medical statement/doctor’s note, see:
Rezept (n.) prescription A prescription from a doctor, dentist or other medical professional for medicine or medical aids
rezeptfreie Arzneimittel (pl.) non-prescription medicines (pl.) Medicines that may be bought without a prescription; see also: pharmacy medicines
rezeptpflichtige Arzneimittel (verschreibungspflichtige A.) prescription-only medicines Medicines that can only be prescribed by a doctor, dentist or other medical professional and are supplied by a pharmacy


The most important factor in preventing flu is good hygiene, including hand washing and covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

The influenza vaccine can reduce the risk of flu, but is not 100% effective. Flu viruses change from year to year, so individuals should have the latest vaccine each year. The recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines is determined by the WHO in advance of each flu season.

In the UK, the flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for people aged 65 or over, pregnant women, anyone who is very overweight, and children and adults with an underlying health condition or weakened immune system.

German English
Grippeimpfung (f.) flu vaccine
Impfstamm (m.) vaccine strain
Impfstoff (m.) vaccine
Impfung (f.) vaccination

Other articles in this series

This article is part of a series of German-English glossaries on infectious diseases. Have a look at the other articles in the series:

References and further information

In English:

In German:

Image credit: © #698943 (mojpe)

Original article by Imke Brodersen, English-German medical translator. English glossary terms and references by Jayne Fox. Translated  into English and adapted by Jayne Fox, German-English medical translator and editor. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Head over to Google+ or Twitter to continue the conversation!