Mild flu season comes to an end, CDC says

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The cold and flu season is winding to a close and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was one of the mildest in years.

During the 2007-2008 flu season, the vaccines prepared by health researchers proved to be only 44% effective, compared to the usual 70%-90% efficacy rate. This year's batch of vaccines was more successful, CDC officials suggest. A high rate of compliance likely reduced overall infection rates, contributing to the mild season. For the first time, so-called "super flu-spreaders"-those aged five to 18 years-were recommended to receive vaccine. Each year, influenza is responsible for more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths, 90% of which occur among the elderly population. This year, a record 146 million doses were produced.

In related news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a rapid test to detect the deadly H5N1 strain of influenza, called the avian flu. The new test would use nose or throat swabs and return results in less than 40 minutes, compared to the two to three hours current testing requires. While there have been only 412 reported human cases of avian flu, mostly in Asia and northern Africa, experts worry that the virus could mutate and lead to a major epidemic.