WHO puts bird flu drug maker on alert

The World Health Organization has asked the maker of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu to be on alert to mobilize its global stockpile of the drug amid three new H5N1 deaths in a family cluster in Indonesia, officials said Saturday.

The WHO, prompted by fears of human-to-human transmission among at least six dead relatives in Indonesia, moved for the first time to place Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG on notice to prepare to distribute its stockpile.

The U.N. health organization said that a precautionary 9,500 treatment doses of Tamiflu from a separate WHO reserve, along with protective gear, were flown into Indonesia on Friday, but the shipment was not expected to be followed by movement of the global stockpile.

The WHO said the Tamiflu alert was part of its standard operating procedure when the organization has "reasonable doubt" about a situation that could involve human-to-human transmission. If the virus can pass easily among humans, it could cause a pandemic.

"We have no intention of shipping that stockpile," cautioned Dick Thompson, WHO spokesman. "We see this as a practice run."

Health officials continue to puzzle over why six family members from a village in North Sumatra have died after being infected by the H5N1 virus. A seventh relative who died was buried before tests could be done, but she was considered to be among those infected.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Nyoman Kandun, a director general at Indonesia's health ministry, said that a WHO laboratory in Hong Kong has confirmed five more cases of human bird flu, three of which were fatal.

All five had earlier tested positive for the H5N1 virus in a local laboratory. Bird flu has now infected 48 people in Indonesia, 36 of whom died, reports AP.

O.Ch.