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Sniffling Virginia Students to Test Aspirin’s Effect on Colds

November 21, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Twenty University of Virginia students will sniffle their way through Thanksgiving to help researchers determine if that most common of medicines, aspirin, can prevent the common cold.

The students, all enrolled in the school of medicine, will be paid $275 each to contract colds and then be tested to see if aspirin can affect the course or severity of the illness.

Financed by the Aspirin Foundation of America, the $100,000 experiment is to determine if aspirin can trigger an effective natural immune response to the common cold.

Dr. Judy Hsia, a George Washington University researcher, says earlier studies have shown that aspirin can cause white blood cells to produce interferon, a natural and potent anti-virus agent. She said two aspirin a day double or triple interferon production, but scientists don’t know why.

The cold study, she said, may give support to a legendary piece of medical advice.

″The old saw of ‘take two aspirin and you’ll feel better’ may be exactly right,″ she said.

For the experiment, a controlled amount of rhinovirus, which causes colds, will be sprayed into the noses of the 20 students.

″Most people will catch colds from the amount of virus they are given,″ Mrs. Hsia said.

Half of the test subjects will receive two aspirin daily, a total of 650 milligrams. The others will receive placebos, or phony aspirin.

The students will be isolated during the five days of the experiment, each living alone in a Charlottesville, Va. hotel room. Contact will be so limited that food trays will be left outside the room doors instead of delivered with the usual room service formality.

Mrs. Hsia said the isolation is to assure that the test subjects are not exposed to any other cold virus.

The isolation will include Thanksgiving and end next Saturday. Mrs. Hsia said the students probably will receive turkey dinners to observe the holiday. But some may already be sick with colds by then.

Blood tests taken before, during and after the experiment will determine the amount of interferon and other natural immunity cells produced in the bloodstreams of the students. The subjects, said Mrs. Hsia, have been screened to assure they were not exposed recently to the virus used in the experiment.

The students will keep diaries on symptoms, count the tissues used and take measurements of the production of nasal mucous.

″These help determine how bad a person’s cold is,″ said Mrs. Hsia.

If the results from the studies are promising, there may be more ambitious experiments later.

″Giving people rhinovirus that they inhaled is really just a model,″ said Mrs. Hsia. ″What really counts is, ‘Can the cold your kid picks up at a day- care center be protected against?’ If the data are encouraging, then we’ll do a community-acquired cold study.″

Other researchers participating in the study are Dr. Allan Goldstein of George Washington University and Dr. Fred Hayden of the University of Virginia.

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