Tamiflu maker on alert after bird flu deaths in Indonesia

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday asked the Swiss manufacturer of the antiviral medicine Tamiflu to prepare the global stockpile of the drug for distribution after a family of seven Indonesians died from the H5N1 avian flu virus. However, the WHO says that there is no cause for alarm at this point.

"Whenever there is a cluster, we contact Roche just to let them know that if we need to send the stockpile that they should be ready to do so," said a spokeswoman for the WHO, Maria Cheng. However, Cheng says "we have not asked that anything be sent, and nothing from Roche has been sent."

Jules Pieters, director of the WHO's rapid response unit, informed Roche Holdings AG to be on alert for the next two weeks after the Indonesian health ministry informed the WHO of the deaths of the members of a family cluster in Kubu Simbelang village in North Sumatra. "We were quite keen to inform Roche quite timely, we knew Thursday would be a holiday in Europe and wanted to make sure Roche warehouses would be open," he said.

Pieters also said that the move was part of standard procedure in cases where there is reasonable suspicion of human-to-human transmission. The WHO flew 9,500 doses of Tamiflu into Indonesia along with protective gear as a precaution.

According to the WHO, the virus has not mutated into an easily human-transmittable form, nor had it spread outside the family, who were all blood relatives in close contact.

Officials in Indonesia also reported on Friday that two more fatal cases of avian flu were reported, this time between an 18-year-old man and his 10-year-old sister. Tests on the two victims are expected to be sent to WHO laboratories for confirmation.

The WHO also says that they have "no intention of shipping that stockpile" and that they consider this "a practice run," said spokesman for the WHO, Dick Thompson. The WHO also said that the virus has not mutated and so far has not shown any signs of human to human transmission outside the affected family members.

Roche Holding is expected to remain on high alert for at least two weeks.

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