Zicam Inventor Pleads Guilty to Illegally Marketing Bird Flu Drug

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The man who invented the cold treatment Zicam has pleaded guilty to trying to sell an unapproved drug for the treatment of bird flu.

57-year old Charles B. Hensley was arrested in June on federal charges of illegally importing and distributing an unapproved herbal product called Vira 38 without FDA approval.

Hensley allegedly marketed the drug as a "prevention and treatment" of influenza during a 2005 worldwide bird flu scare, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Pio Kim.

Hensley pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court Monday to one of the charges under an agreement with prosecutors, said Kim.

Sentencing is set for Nov. 21.

Hensley had initially attempted to sell the drug in Hong Kong, Kim said.

When authorities there would not approve it, Hensley started marketing it on the Internet, Kim said.

Hensley's attorney, Richard Jaffe of Houston, said the product was a natural supplement made from "four teas you can find in any health-food store."

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

In the 1990s, Hensley obtained patents for a zinc-based gel that was marketed as a cold remedy under the brand name Zicam.

In 2009, the FDA ordered Zicam's manufacturer, Matrixx Initiatives of Scottsdale, Ariz., to stop selling the product because it damages users' sense of smell.

The over-the-counter products contain zinc, an ingredient scientists say may damage nerves in the nose needed for smell.

"Loss of the sense of smell is potentially life threatening and may be permanent," said Dr. Charles Lee.

Matrixx still sells lozenges, syrups and sprays under the Zicam name.

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