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, ABC News reported.
Researcher Dr Michael Gantier says it was originally used to treat wounds and "sleeping sickness" in soldiers during World War I.
"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."
Dr Gantier said there were many molecules around that had been reported to have antiviral activity.
"For instance in green tea extract, even in red wine extract," he said.
"And we think they may be acting in the same way by binding the DNA on the patients or the host, then promoting this antiviral response."
He said they found that Acriflavine basically produced a "double effect".
"On one hand to have an antibacterial effect, and on the other hand we discovered this capacity to instigate an immune response of the host, to protect the host," he said.
"So we think that for patients who are at from antiobiotic resistance, we could potentially provide them with this drug in a form like a puffer — a bit like you use Ventolin," he said.
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."