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Flu Vaccine To Get Makeover

A Food and Drug Administration committee decided Thursday to add the flu strain that caused the most illnesses this year to next year's influenza vaccine.

The advisory committee joined the World Health Organization in deciding to add the A-Fujian to the vaccine, which will also contain a second A strain which was in this year's vaccine.

The vaccine includes two strains of A-type flu and one of B-type. Tentatively the committee decided to keep the current B-Shanghai in the vaccine. That could change in the unlikely event there is a major outbreak of a type B flu before the committee confirms its action March 17.

Flu viruses come in different strains that constantly mutate. Type A strains are always the harshest, particularly a type known as H3N2. Fujian is a new H3N2 strain.

Despite fear that the new Fujian strain would make this winter's flu season unusually harsh, and aside from beginning a month early, it turned out to be a pretty typical H3N2 year, said Ann Moen, an influenza specialist of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.

Flu and pneumonia accounted for 10 percent of all deaths during influenza's peak in late December, she said. That's just shy of the flu's death toll in 1999, the last time an H3N2 strain predominated.

The flu vaccine is reformulated every year to try to match the strains that specialists predict are most likely to strike. It has to be done months in advance so manufacturers have time to make the vaccine.