LOS ANGELES – The inventor of well-known cold remedy Zicam has been charged with illegally importing and distributing an unapproved herbal product that he claimed treated bird flu, authorities said Thursday.
The case dates back to 2005, when fears ran high that the world was at risk of a bird flu pandemic.
At the time, Zicam inventor Charles B. Hensley was trying to market a product called Vira 38 as a regular flu remedy in Hong Kong, the U.S. attorney's office said.
When his efforts to sell the remedy were unsuccessful, he started claiming that Vira 38 contained compounds that inhibit the bird flu virus and began selling the product in the U.S., prosecutors said.
U.S. attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek said he was not aware of anyone being harmed by the product. It was not clear why it took prosecutors so long to file a case against Hensley, who was arrested Wednesday.
Hensley, 57, was charged with four felony counts of illegally importing an unapproved drug into the U.S., as well as four misdemeanor counts each of introducing an unapproved new drug into interstate commerce and introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce.
Hensley pleaded not guilty to all counts at his arraignment Thursday afternoon, prosecutors told City News Service. He was released on a $5,000 unsecured appearance bond, prosecutors said.
A message seeking comment from a federal public defender assigned to Hensley's case was not immediately returned, and efforts to find a telephone listing for his Redondo Beach home were unsuccessful.
According to a federal indictment, Vira 38 was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The indictment also alleges the importation of Vira 38 from Hong Kong amounted to the illegal importation and sale of an unapproved drug.