New flu strain to be included in vaccine

A new strain of the flu virus was discovered in Santa Clara

It may not yet be wreaking havoc worldwide, but a new influenza
strain discovered in Santa Clara County has some people
It may not yet be wreaking havoc worldwide, but a new influenza strain discovered in Santa Clara County has some people concerned.

The Santa Clara County Department of Public Health discovered the strain, dubbed “A/California/7/2004 (H3N2),” in October, and the new flu is already on the list of strains to be targeted in next year’s U.S. flu vaccines.

The virus, which is a strain of the A/Fujian strain that was going around last season, has affected people outside of the county. Although the first case of the strain was reported in Santa Clara County, it is not necessarily native to the area.

“It is going all throughout the country,” said Santa Clara County health spokeswoman Joy Alexiou. “We were just the first ones to recognize it.”

But local authorities say it is not a cause for major concern just yet.

“I don’t know of any case yet,” said San Benito County Health Officer Liz Falade. “It is not a threat that I know of … We haven’t heard of any hospitalization or any absenteeisms.”

The Santa Clara County health department routinely receives flu and other viral samples from area doctors, tests them itself and then sends their findings to state laboratories to analyze them further.

“We do active surveillance to find out what is out there,” Alexiou said. When the department discovered the strain, doctors tested a patient and found the patient ill with the flu, although they could not figure out what type the flu strain was. The doctors sent it to the Centers for Disease Control, which found it was a new strain.

“Scientists compare it to other viruses to get a point of reference,” Christine Pearson, a spokeswoman for the CDC. “As a virus changes then it no longer looks like the other virus. The California strain is related to the Fujian strain that was going on last year.”

The CDC recently analyzed 320 flu samples at random and found that about 45 percent of those most closely resembled the California strain while a majority of the rest resembled the Fujian strain, Pearson said.

“Flu viruses do shift and change,” she said. “It is not uncommon for new ones to emerge as they take others places.”

Each year, when new strains evolve, the flu vaccine has to be updated as a result. Health department officials are not sure if this new strain can be prevented with the current flu shots. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration approved on Feb. 16 targeting this strain and two others with next year’s flu vaccine.

The symptoms of the A/California strain are similar to those found in other traditional strains – headaches, fever and loss of appetite and sometimes a cough or runny nose.

Like with any flu, people should cover their mouths when they cough, stay home from work and not visit the elderly or children, Falade advised.

“Influenza is a pretty serious disease,” Alexiou said, “and I don’t think people always understand that.”

The flu season usually runs through March, and the shots take about two weeks to take effect, health department officials say. The shots are now available for all, and the health department advises people who are at high risk to get vaccinated. People at risk include children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and pregnant women.

Shots are available at South County Clinic at 80 Highland Ave. in San Martin on Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm. No appointment is necessary, but people are advised to come early to be sure of receiving a shot. In Hollister, the San Benito County Health Department at 439 Fourth Street offers flu vaccine shots Tuesday from 8:30am to 10:30am or others by appointment. A $20 donation is requested.

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