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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1989 May;33(5):646-8.

Failure of zinc gluconate in treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104.


Zinc is a trace metal with in vitro activity against rhinovirus, the major etiologic agent in acute upper respiratory tract infections (URIs). A previous trial of zinc gluconate supported its efficacy in treating URIs, but the effectiveness of blinding was uncertain. We conducted a prospective randomized trial of zinc gluconate versus a taste-matched placebo of sucrose octaacetate. Lozenges containing either 23 mg of elemental zinc or placebo were taken every 2 h. Eleven URI symptoms were rated daily on a scale of 0 (not present) to 3 (severe). Duration of illness, reflected in the proportion of subjects remaining symptomatic on each day, was not significantly reduced (maximum difference of 12.6% on day 7, P = 0.09; 95% confidence interval, -6 to 31%) by either treatment. Severity of illness, assessed by using a summed severity score, was reduced incrementally by 7 to 8% on days 5 to 7 (P = 0.02) in subjects taking zinc. Adverse effects, mostly nausea and altered taste, were reported by 50% of subjects taking zinc. We conclude that while zinc gluconate may produce a small reduction in overall severity of symptoms, this is not clinically significant. Given the additional high incidence of adverse effects, zinc gluconate cannot be recommended for use in the treatment of acute URIs.

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