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Widespread media coverage for the Cochrane Review of zinc for the common cold

   "There used to be a lot of education needed on what a review is and what Cochrane is, but now this is asked less and less, and the media take press releases seriously because they see it’s a Cochrane Review."  Jen Beal, Global Publicity Manager, Wiley-Blackwell

The February 2011 issue of The Cochrane Library included, as usual, about 30 new reviews, covering a wide range of subjects. Two of those reviews, on zinc for the common cold and on biologic drugs for arthritis, looked like they might be of interest to the media, so The Cochrane Library's publisher, John Wiley & Sons, issued press releases. Important though the arthritis review may be, it was the zinc review that caused a stir.

The review, by researchers from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, in Chandigarh, India, found that taking zinc significantly reduced the duration of symptoms of the common cold, although the results of the studies were inconsistent. The review also found that zinc was associated with side effects. Lead author, Meenu Singh, noted: “It is still difficult to make a general recommendation, because we do not know very much about the optimum dose, formulation or length of treatment.”

Despite these limitations, the review received an unprecedented level of media interest, with many calls from journalists desperate to interview the authors and Cochrane Collaboration staff. It was an instant hit, getting over 800 mentions across various media in the first two days after publication, and about 1000 mentions by day 10 - twice as many as any other Cochrane press release to date. There was a lot of mainstream coverage in newspapers, television and radio, with about a quarter of these in one of 21 non-English languages, a much higher proportion than for previous press releases.

So why did this review get so much attention? Jennifer Beal, Wiley-Blackwell Global Publicity Manager, explains: "It’s something that anyone can make a decision on – they can go out and buy the treatment rather than their doctor choosing it for them.  It's also a very simple story to tell: take a pill and get better. To top it off, no reporter would turn down a story on a 'cure' for colds." It has certainly given Cochrane Reviews much more mainstream impact than ever before. Together with the press releases for the January issue, especially those on antioxidants for male subfertility and on the benefits of statins, it means that in only two months Cochrane Reviews have reached 50% of the total coverage gained in 2010.

Media coverage of Cochrane Reviews grows every year, partly due to increased coverage in India, South America, Africa, and China, but also because Cochrane is becoming more well-known. As Jennifer Beal says, "When I first started working on Cochrane there was a lot of education needed on what a review is and what Cochrane is, but now this is asked less and less, and the media take press releases seriously because they see that it’s about a Cochrane Review."

Review citation: Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD001364. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub3.

John Hilton (, Editor, Cochrane Editorial Unit, London, UK

Updated on: April 15, 2011, 20:46

Comments for improvement or correction are welcome.