WWI antiseptic could fight common cold – and tackle superbugs

WWI antiseptic could fight common cold – and tackle superbugs, by Bridie Smith.

A century-old antiseptic made from coal tar and used to treat wounds and sleeping sickness in World War I Australian soldiers has been found to help the body fight off viral infections, including the common cold.

Acriflavine antiseptic is a brown or orange powder that is mixed with water to wash out wounds and treat abrasions.

In World War I and World War II it was used to treat everything from open wounds and bladder infections to gonorrhoea. It was also used to kill the parasite that causes sleeping sickness. But it has never been clear how it worked – until now.

Molecular biologists Michael Gantier and Genevieve Pepin from Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research have established that the antiseptic attaches to the DNA of the patient, which sparks the body’s immune system into action. …

As well as fighting the common cold and influenza, it could be useful in containing the spread of viral outbreaks including SARS, Zika and Ebola.

And because the overlooked antiseptic works by supercharging the body’s immune system, it could also prove a valuable treatment option for antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which have been forecast to kill 10 million people by 2050.

“While we have published on its impact on viruses, it is most likely that this is applicable to bacterial infections as well,” Dr Gantier said. …

Identified as an antiseptic by German scientists in 1912, acriflavine is still used in some poorer countries, although the past 50 years have largely seen it replaced by penicillin.

“It is extremely cheap, which is why it is still used in poorer countries,” Dr Gantier said. “It is also easy to move around because you don’t have to worry about temperature or humidity.”

hat-tip Chris