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SCIENCE REPORT - January 2, 2002: New Cold Drug - 2001-12-28

This is the VOA Special English Science Report.

American researchers say they have developed the first drug that can effectively treat adults suffering a viral respiratory infection called the common cold.

A cold is an infection of the breathing system. About fifty percent of colds are caused by a group of viruses known as picornaviruses (pa-CORN-a-viruses). These small particles spread from person to person through the air. The virus first infects the tissues in the nose and throat. Signs of a cold include sore throat, discharge of fluids from the nose, sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. The sinuses, ears and lungs may also become infected. This can lead to serious conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia.

Medical experts say Americans suffer as many as one-thousand-million colds every year. The experts say colds result in fifty-one-million visits to doctors each year. Yet no treatments are effective against the picornavirus.

Researchers at the ViroPharma company in Exton, Pennsylvania say they have developed such a drug. It is called pleconaril (pla-CON-ah-rill). The researchers say the drug attacks the picornavirus. It interferes with the infection process and prevents the virus from reproducing.

Researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville studied the drug. They reported the results at an infectious disease conference in Chicago, Illinois. They said pleconaril reduces the length and severity of a cold.

One study involved more than two-thousand people with colds who were divided into two groups. One group took four-hundred milligrams of pleconaril three times a day for five days. The other group took an inactive substance. Sixty-five percent of those in the study had a cold caused by a picornavirus.

The people infected with the picornavirus who took pleconaril suffered from the cold for six days. The others who took the inactive substance suffered for seven days. The researchers said the drug made people feel better sooner when the cold was caused by a picornavirus. They also said the drug began to ease the signs of the cold within one day. And it stopped the discharge of nasal fluids one day sooner than usual.

The United States Food and Drug Administration is examining the research on pleconaril. Officials at ViroPharma say they expect the drug to be approved later this year.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.