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Flu Strikes a Milder Blow This Season
Date:4/8/2009

Effective vaccine and more vaccinations among young people helped, experts say ,,,,

WEDNESDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- As the flu season winds down, experts say this has been the mildest season in years.

Less severe strains of influenza and a good vaccine match for the strains that were circulating combined to create a milder season this year than last, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If we look at mortality and the rate of hospitalizations, it seems like this year is less severe compared to last year and more similar to the years prior to last year," said Dr. Alicia M. Fry, a CDC epidemiologist. "The flu did not reach an epidemic threshold this year."

Historically, she explained, in years where the influenza type A H3N2 subtype is the predominate virus, the season is more severe. "This year was not one of those years," she said. "It was a year where the influenza A H1N1 virus was the predominate virus, followed by the influenza type B viruses."

The CDC arrived at this conclusion using data from 122 cities on deaths from flu or pneumonia among adults and flu-related deaths among children. It appears that flu-related hospitalizations and deaths were significantly lower this year, Fry said

Typically, the flu causes 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths a year, according CDC estimates. The old, the very young and people with chronic illnesses are at greatest risk.

So far this flu season, 43 children have died from the flu compared with 68 during last year's flu season, according to the CDC.

Flu vaccines are often 70 percent to 90 percent effective. Last flu season, the vaccine was only about 20 percent effective against the H3N2 strain and less than 2 percent effective against the B strains, according to the CDC.

But this year's flu vaccine was a very good match for influenza A H1N1 and H3N2, Fry said.

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