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Flu Vaccine Worst in 10 Years

This year's flu shot was only 44% effective, a new study
suggests -- the least effective flu vaccine in a decade.

The findings come from a study of 616 Wisconsin residents who came down with
flu-like illnesses during the peak of the flu season. Study findings appear in
today's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In good years, flu vaccines are 70% to 90% effective in preventing confirmed
cases of flu bad enough to cause a person to seek medical attention. This
year's vaccine appears to be the least effective since the 1997-1998 flu
season, when the vaccine was about 50% effective.

Two of the 2007-2008 flu vaccine's three components didn't match most of the
flu viruses circulating this flu season. This season's predominant flu bugs
have been the mismatched type A H3N2 and type B H3N2 strains.

The H3/N2 component was only a partial mismatch, cutting the vaccine's
effectiveness against type A flu to 58%. The type B flu component did not match
at all -- and the vaccine seems to have had no effect against this bug.

Dan Jernigan, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division,
takes an optimistic, glass-half-full view of the study findings.

"While the vaccine's effectiveness against H3N2 is less than might be
expected ... the evidence suggested that the vaccine provided substantial
protection," Jernigan said at a CDC news conference. "The measurable
effectiveness of the vaccine in this study suggests we continue to recommend
vaccination even in years of mismatch."

That's true: The vaccine's 44% effectiveness is a lot better than the 0%
effectiveness of no vaccination at all.

And that's good news for the record number of Americans who got their flu
shots this year. Vaccine companies delivered 113 million doses of flu

"That is more flu vaccine than ever distributed in the U.S. before
-- about 10 million more doses than were distributed last season," Jeanne
Santoli, MD, MPH, deputy director of the CDC's immunization services division,
said at the news conference.

(Will this news make you more or less likely to get a flu shot in the
coming season? Join in WebMD's Flu Shot
Poll on the
Health Cafe board.)

'Moderately Severe' Flu Season Still Simmering

For 13 weeks this season, flu deaths were above what CDC calls "the
epidemic threshold." This means that flu deaths made up a
larger-than-normal proportion of all deaths. At the peak of the season, in mid-February,
flu deaths peaked at 9.1% of all U.S. deaths.

That makes this year's flu season
similar to the 2003-2004 season, when flu deaths peaked at 10.4% of all deaths
and exceeded the epidemic threshold for nine weeks.

The 2003-2004 season was officially labeled "moderately severe."
There won't be an official designation for this flu season until it officially
ends in May.

And flu season is not yet over.
Six states -- Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont
-- still had widespread flu outbreaks as of April 5.

Although the "Brisbane" H3N2 type A flu virus was the most common
flu bug this year, Jernigan said, the type B virus is now the predominant
strain currently going around.

Since the flu vaccine isn't effective against this bug -- and isn't totally
effective against the Brisbane bug -- the CDC is recommending that people who
come down with flu-like illnesses ask their doctors about the flu drugs Tamiflu
and Relenza.

By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved

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