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New Strain of Flu Discovered in Calif.

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reportingDoctors have discovered a new strain of the flu in the Bay area of California.

The new strain most likely did not originate in the Bay are. But it was detected there, thanks to a new flu tracking system.

At the Santa Clara Dept of Public Health, clinicians routinely take sample from volunteers who are suffering from respiratory viral infections. Little did they know one sample taken a few months ago would yield such a big surprise.

"Occasionally these new strains come up and I was surpised that it came from California and I was doubly suprised that it came from Santa Clara."

The South Bay lab sent the sample to the California Dept of Health Services facilities in Richmond. Dr. Carol Glaser heads up the virus lab.

"It did not react to our traditional cell systems to the current circulating viruses. That basically was a red flag to us that there was something different about it," she says.

Federal scientists at the CDC confirmed it was a new strain of the flu, and they dubbed it A-California-7-2004.

The California strain is a variant of the Fujian virus, which is behind most flu cases in the nation. But the California strain is rapidly making its mark.

"It looks like 20 percent of flu strains coming in the CDC are actually more closely related to this strain of flu than the Fujian strain of flu."

The discovery of the new strain speaks to the strengths of a new state flu tracking system, set up a few years ago as a result of the SARS epidemic. It's too soon to tell whether this year's vaccine will be effective against the California strain or not. But public health doctors warn now is not the time to wait.

"If you look at we're starting to see more influenza and California peaks late, so there's still time and there's still vaccine for people to go out and get their flu shot."

The California flu season can stretch into March. Next week, an international team of virologists are meeting to decide on what strains should go into next year's vaccine. The discovery of this new strain could complicate matters. Vaccine manufacturing relies on chicken eggs and a lot of guesswork. Each year, vaccine makers need to come up with a new vaccine to match whatever strains they believe will be circulating.

The California strain will be a candidate, along with A-Fujian, and another strain called A-Wellington.

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