Thanks to a painstaking translation by Dr. Christina Lee, an expert in Old English, scientists have gained access to remedies used in Britain during the Middle Ages. One remedy, which was used to treat eye infections as early as the 10th century, has surprised researchers by outperforming conventional antibiotics. Now there is growing hope the potion could deal the death blow to the modern-day “super bug,” MRSA infecton (Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus).
MRSA appears as a skin infection. Approximately two percent of the population carries the MRSA bacteria, and it is easily transmitted through direct contact with an infected wound or through sharing towels or other items that have touched infected skin. The risk is highest in situations that involve crowding and shared equipment, such as hospitals, schools, or military installations.
MRSA is much more difficult to treat than other common staph infections, because it is resistant to many antibiotics, including methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin and oxacillin. It may first appear as a pimple, but it spreads and can be fatal.
The remedy was found in Bald’s Leechbook, an Anglo-Saxon medical textbook housed in the British Library. It consists of two species of Allium (a scientific class that includes garlic, onion, and leek) as well as wine and oxgall, or bile from a cow’s stomach. The mixture is then brewed in a brass vessel and purified through a strainer. After that, it is left to cure for nine days before use.
Researchers in Texas, as well as in the U.K, have determined the power of the remedy depends upon following it accurately. None of the individual ingredients achieves the efficacy of the original remedy. They speculate the brewing method may also be key.
Lead researcher Dr. Freya Harrison, a microbiologist from the University of Nottingham, says the thousand-year-old treatment is an “incredibly potent” antiobiotic. It does cure styes, an eyelash infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus, but it is also showing great promise against MRSA. In fact, in mice infected with MRSA, it killed up to 90 per cent of the bacteria. Against laboratory-grown infections, it killed 9,999 bacterial cells out of a thousand.
Dr. Harrison commented:
I still can’t quite believe how well this one thousand year old antibiotic actually seems to be working, when we got the first results we were just utterly dumbfounded. We did not see this coming at all.
The Nottingham research group is seeking additional grant funding to conduct human testing.