WWI antiseptic could prove useful in superbug fight

A century-old topical antiseptic can effectively protect against the common cold and shows potential for use in the battle against antibiotic resistance, according to a recent study published in the journal of Nucleic Acids Research.

Acriflavine is made from coal tar and was used in World War I to treat wounds. The antiseptic was also used up until World War II to treat gonorrhea, urinary infections and tropical disease, but has been out of use for more than 50 years.

For the study, researchers discovered pretreating human lung cells with the antiseptic triggered an antiviral immune response, which protected the cells from rhinovirus infection. Because the antiseptic both innately attacks bacteria and activates the immune system, researchers think it could prove effective in both the fight against antibiotic resistance and viral disease pandemics.

"Acriflavine was used in the first half of the 20th century as a topical antibacterial, before being supplanted by penicillin," said Genevieve Pepin, PhD, first author of the paper and scientist with the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia. "Our study indicates that Acriflavine stimulates the host immune system, rather than simply killing bacteria, suggesting it wouldn't be as likely to drive mutations in bacteria — showing a safeguard against resistance and a potential alternative to current antibacterial drugs."

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