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China Has Own Version of Bird Flu Drug

China has developed what it calls the equivalent of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu in preparation for a feared pandemic if the virus begins spreading among humans.

Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, was quoted in The Information Times newspaper as saying the drug would be effective in treating the virus.

"New progress will be achieved in the near future," the paper's Saturday edition reported Zhong as saying.

China has yet to report a human case of bird flu, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, though the World Health Organisation (WHO) is helping to probe a possible human case in Hunan province, which had an outbreak in October.

The Information Times report did not say when the drug might be available or say how it compared with the antiviral Tamiflu, made by Swiss drug giant Roche Holding AG.

In the absence of a vaccine for bird flu, the World Health Organisation recommends that governments stockpile Tamiflu, which does not cure the disease but can reduce its severity and might slow the spread of a pandemic.

Roche said last week it had stopped selling Tamiflu in China and was instead sending all supplies to the health ministry.

The move followed similar suspensions of supplies to pharmacies in the United States, Canada and Hong Kong to head off hoarding by consumers worried about the spread of bird flu as the world heads into the influenza season.

In the fight against bird flu, Zhong said close monitoring of patients who have caught pneumonia from unknown causes was vital to determine whether influenza, a recurrence of severe acute respiratory syndrome or an outbreak of bird flu was to blame.

As such, involving the WHO had been a sensible step. "This is helpful for the correct diagnosis of patients' diseases and for the treatment of these infectious illnesses," Zhong was quoted as saying.

One of the basic ingredients of Tamiflu is shikimic acid, which is derived from the pod of the star-shaped anise fruit, grown in China, or via fermentation.

But Zhong dismissed as groundless rumours that star anise, by itself, could be an effective treatment against bird flu or influenza because the amount used in Tamiflu was minute.

China has reported a total of eight outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in poultry since the start of October.

Premier Wen Jiabao warned last week week that the country was facing a "very serious situation" as the disease had not been brought under control and was likely to spread.

The latest outbreak occurred in Jingshan country in Hubei province. Local authorities have culled more than 31,000 poultry within a radius of 3 kilometers (2 miles), Xinhua News Agency reported.

(China Daily November 14, 2005)

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