Zicam's inventor pleads guilty to distributing unapproved bird flu product

The inventor of Zicam, a cold remedy, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally distributing an unapproved product that he claimed could treat and prevent bird flu.

Charles Hensley of Redondo Beach, California, admitted to introducing an herbal remedy known as Vira 38 without receiving approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Washington Post. Hensley could face up to a year in prison after he is sentenced in November.

The 57-year-old Hensley allegedly attempted to promote Vira 38 as a regular flu remedy during the H5N1 virus scare in Hong Kong in 2005. After his efforts failed, Hensley allegedly claimed that the product contained compounds that stop the bird flu virus. He then began efforts to sell the product in the United States using the internet.

Hensley’s indictment alleges that he shipped 26 bottles of the drug from Hong Kong to the United States bound for customers in Kansas and California. Vira 38 was sold on the website for Hensley’s company, PRB Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Cypress, according to the L.A. Times.

"His problem was claiming that this treats disease," Assistant U.S. Attorney Pio Kim said, the L.A. Times reports. "You can't just decide to take it upon yourself to say this treats a serious disease, particularly something like bird flu."