LOS ANGELES (CN) – The man who invented Zicam cold remedy was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly importing an unapproved herbal product from Hong Kong to the United States and advertising it as a bird flu treatment.
Charles Hensley, who previously invented the zinc-based Zicam, allegedly exploited bird-flu panic to sell an unsuccessful product that was never registered by the Food and Drug Administration.
After unsuccessfully trying to sell Vira 38 in Hong Kong, Hensley illegally imported 25,000 bottles of the drug to the United States and planned to sell it as a bird flu medication to American online customers through his company PRB Pharmaceutical, according to the 12-count indictment.
He priced Vira 38 at $30 a bottle.
The first outbreak of avian influenza, or H5N1, occurred in Hong Kong in 1997. As the chicken-linked illness spread through Asia in 2005, fear of a pandemic took hold worldwide. Of 519 confirmed cases of avian flu in humans since 2003 worldwide, 306 have died, according to statistics from the World Health Organization released on Feb. 2, 2011.
“Everybody is scared of it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Pio Kim told Courthouse News in an interview. “Hensley’s website made it easy for people around the world, including England and Australia, to purchase his products. Anyone who speaks and reads English can buy it.”
Hensley’s case was investigated by the Southern California Import Task Force and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
“We’d been tracing a shipment from Hong Kong sent to Chicago back in 2005,” Kim said, attributing the delay in filing charges to failed attempts at a settlement.
Though Hensley’s other product, Zicam, is FDA-approved, new studies and hundreds of lawsuits have linked it to anosmia, the sometimes permanent loss of the sense of smell.
Kim said this is the first case involving a bogus bird flu drug but recalled a similar lawsuit in Arizona involving the swine flu a few years back.
Hensley was arrested at his home in Redondo Beach by the Southern California Import Task Force earlier this week and faces a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison.