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Antiseptic used in WWI could hold key to treating superbugs, viral infections, Melbourne researchers say

ABC News logo ABC News 28/11/2016

The antiseptic was replaced by penicillin after being widely used in WWI © AWM: P03236.348 The antiseptic was replaced by penicillin after being widely used in WWI An antiseptic used to treat wounds during World War I that has been out of use for more than 50 years could help fight superbugs and prevent future pandemics, Melbourne researchers have said.

The team from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research found that pre-treating people with Acriflavine protected cells against the common cold by triggering an anti-viral immune response.

The antiseptic, which is made from coal tar, can help prevent viral infections and cure bacterial ones. Researcher Dr Michael Gantier says it was originally used to treat wounds and "sleeping sickness" in soldiers during World War I.

"It's repurposing something that has been around forever. It's not really around anymore because people didn't understand how it worked," he said.

"It was replaced afterwards by penicillin, but we think that with new bacteria [that are] more and more resistant to treatment it may do a comeback.

"It's very cheap to make, it's not something you would make if you were a private company trying to make money on drugs."

Antiseptic gives patients 'a head start'

The World Health Organisation has warned of a potential global crisis from the increase in antibiotic resistant bugs, or superbugs.

Dr Gantier said those who were pre-treated with the antiseptic were given an edge over infections.

"So when they've got a head start for when the infection kicks in, they are better off because they've already been primed and they will be able to fight better," he said.

"We can apply that to people who are resistant to every treatment and that could still have some benefit for them.

"If there was a new pandemic coming like the Spanish Influenza, which killed more people than the first world war, we may be able to protect people for which we've got no other drugs."

At the moment the drug is still being studied and has yet to be used in clinical trials.

"I guess [going back to] this drug which has been used before in humans is potentially easier than making a new drug," he said.

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