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Flu-related doctor visits cut by 48% thanks to vaccine, study finds

If you’ve been spending flu season living in fear of getting sick every time someone near you coughs or sneezes, researchers have good news about the flu vaccine.

The current seasonal influenza vaccine has been found to be 48 percent effective in preventing flu-related medical visits, according to a preliminary report in the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The researchers looked at data between late November to early February from the 3,144 children and adults, 1,650 of whom were vaccinated, to see who sought medical treatment for flu-like symptoms.

While the vaccine was found to be 48 percent effective in preventing flu-related medical visits for all ages, it provided slightly better protection for young children between the ages of 6 months to 8 years and older adults between the ages of 50 to 64, according to the report. The vaccine was found to be 53 percent effective in preventing flu-related medical visits for the young children and 58 percent effective for the older adults.

Meanwhile, it was found to be less effective in children between the ages of 9 to 17 years old (32 percent effective), those 18 to 49 (19 percent effective) and those over the age of 65 (46 percent effective).

"We know that influenza vaccine is a good but not perfect vaccine," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News.

Schaffner pointed out that it is especially important that the elderly, and those who will be around the elderly, get the vaccine, since the dominant flu strain A(H3N2) spreading across the country is more likely to cause severe complications among the elderly.

The current flu vaccine has been found to protect against the A(H3N2) strain 43 percent of the time, and it can also lessen the chances of an infected person developing serious symptoms, according to the MMWR report.

"It disproportionately affects older people and makes them sicker," Schaffner explained of the A(H3N2) flu virus strain. "There is a perfect match between that strain and what is in the vaccine."

The flu vaccine is developed every year to try and match the virus strains that are expected to be most common during flu season in the U.S. Currently the U.S. is in the middle of a flu epidemic, which occurs almost every year. The CDC report found that high levels of flu activity is likely to continue for the next few weeks.

Flu can cause symptoms of headache, fever, joint pain and cough. The seasonal flu generally spreads across the U.S. from November through March, with the peak number of cases often occurring in February. The number of people affected every year can vary widely, but generally, the CDC reports that "millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu every year."