China has suspended the sale and use of an injectable herbal remedy after six people suffered adverse reactions, including three who died.
The State Food and Drug Administration said in a notice posted late Wednesday that the six suffered "serious ill effects" after being injected with an extract from an herb called Ciwujia made by Wandashan Pharmaceutical.
The SFDA isolated two batches of the remedy and urged immediate nationwide reporting of any adverse effects. The suspension comes as China is trying to reassure consumers amid a widespread tainted dairy scandal, the latest to mar the country's already troubled product safety record.
A man who answered the telephone at Wandashan's marketing department in Harbin, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang in China's northeast, said the company had stopped selling the herbal injection and sent the two batches to the SFDA for testing.
The man, who would give only his surname Luan, said Wandashan has used Ciwujia in its products for more than 30 years without a problem. Luan said the injectable form of the herbal remedy was a relatively new product.
"I haven't heard of any bad reaction to this injection before," Luan said.
The company, which has fixed assets of $52 million, produces more than 100 types of pharmaceuticals, including cough and cold medicines, according to its Web site.
Among them are also more than 10 kinds of remedies using Ciwujia in the form of capsules, injections and herbal tea, the site said.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the injections are often used to help treat thrombosis and heart disease.
It said the six began to feel cold and vomited, with some going into a coma after they were injected at the No. 4 People's Hospital in Honghe prefecture in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Three died on Monday, Xinhua said.
The Health Ministry and the SFDA have sent inspection teams to Yunnan and Heilongjiang, it said.
China's pharmaceutical industry is highly lucrative but poorly regulated, resulting in companies trying to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients. In recent years, a string of fatalities blamed on counterfeit or shoddily made medications have been reported.
The troubles also extend to regulatory bodies. Last year, amid an uproar over the safety of Chinese exports, the country's former top drug regulator was executed for taking millions of dollars in bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 people.