New type of flu bug emerges |

New type of flu bug emerges

With the flu year still in full swing, experts are wondering if the 2005-06 season will be as chaotic as the current one, which began with a high-profile shortage of flu vaccine.

“It’s too early to say if we’ll have a similar situation,” said Bonnie Hebert at the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “If we did, we would prioritize patients just like we did this year,” with the elderly, youth and those with chronic conditions getting shots first.

This flu season started out with a thud when is was announced in October that California’s supply of vaccine from the Chiron firm in England was tainted and cut off. Supplies eventually reached Nevada County residents, but not in an efficient, timely manner, and many had to scramble to find the vaccine for a time before more arrived at the end of the year.

According to Norma Arceo at the California Department of Health Services, next year’s flu vaccine may protect against a new strain of flu found in Santa Clara County this year. “A/California” is much like the Asian A/Fujian that currently makes people cough, sneeze and ache across the state.

World Health Organization official Dr. Klaus Stohr told The New York Times earlier this month that the strain was found in 20 percent of flu victims recently and is expected to be dominant in the Northern Hemisphere next year.

Hebert said CDC and the World Health Organization will be selecting the strain targets for next year’s vaccines this week and next. Manufacturers have to know by April in order to have enough time to produce the vaccine.

According to the CDC, flu vaccines are changed on a yearly basis to fight whatever is expected to be strongest that year. The vaccines battle A and B strains but not the milder C strains of flu, and generally three to four strains are fought with one shot.

Arceo said there is no specific symptom difference with the A-California strain because people usually have similar feelings no matter what strain they get – a cold, sniffles, aches and nausea.

Arceo said the state is still looking to finish out this flu season and was not sure if anyone was planning to fill the gap produced by Chiron, now based in Emeryville in the Bay Area. Chiron will have to undergo a U.S. and U.K. scrutiny and relicensing process before it can make flu vaccine for the United State again, Hebert said. But the firm said on its Web site that there are hopes for doing just that.

According to a Web science journalism magazine called, Chiron’s vaccine failure this year shined a light on the industry and provoked thoughts about how to avert a crisis like last October’s.

Chiron’s bad batch was started from chicken embryos, which exposed the vaccine to spoiling. Chiron and a host of other European manufacturers are looking at producing the vaccine in the future using alternative methods.

But Hebert said those firms would have to face U.S. licensing to sell their vaccines. The only ones currently with those licenses are Chiron and the firm that picked up part of its slack this year, Sanofi Pasteur MDS.

According to, St. Louis University did research this year that stretched the vaccine to one small, disease-stopping dose for every five people by injecting into the skin instead of the muscle.

This year, the flu season was no epidemic, but it did pick up in January, according to the CDC.

Get a flu shot

You can still get a shot for the 2004-05 flu year. The Nevada County Community Health Department’s van offers vaccinations from 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays while the supply lasts. The van is parked behind the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building, 255 S. Auburn St.

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