Objective: To determine the preventive and curative effects of manual acupuncture on the symptoms of the common cold. Method: Students and staff in five Japanese acupuncture schools (n = 326) were randomly allocated to acupuncture and no-treatment control groups. A specific needling point (Y point) on the neck was used bilaterally. Fine acupuncture needles were gently manipulated for 15 s, evoking de qi sensation. Acupuncture treatments were performed four times during the 2-week experimental period with a 2-week follow-up period. A common cold diary was scored daily for 4 weeks, and a common cold questionnaire was scored before each acupuncture treatment and twice at weekly intervals. A reliability test for the questionnaire was performed on the last day of recording. Results: Five of the 326 subjects who were recruited dropped out. The diary score in the acupuncture group tended to decrease after treatment, but the difference between groups was not significant (Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, log rank test P = 0.53, Cox regression analysis, P > 0.05). Statistically significantly fewer symptoms were reported in the questionnaire by the acupuncture group than control group (P = 0.024, general linear model, repeated measure). Significant inter-centre (P < 0.001, general linear model) and sex (P = 0.027, general linear model) differences were also detected. Reliability tests indicated that the questionnaire with 15 items was sufficiently reliable. No severe adverse event was reported. Conclusion: This is the first report of a multi-centre randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for symptoms of the common cold. A significantly positive effect of acupuncture was demonstrated in the summed questionnaire data, although a highly significant inter-centre difference was observed. Needling on the neck using the Japanese fine needle manipulating technique was shown to be effective and safe. The use of acupuncture for symptoms of the common cold symptoms should be considered, although further evidence from placebo controlled RCTs is required. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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