Hoaxes & Rumors

Medieval Medicine: Will a 9th Century Eye Ointment Finally Kill MRSA?

Medieval Medicine: Will a 9th Century Eye Ointment Finally Kill MRSA?

Miles Freeman was an outstanding student and a physically healthy, talented athlete. But an illness which began with a simple cough and mild, flu-like symptoms, degraded into a frantic visit to the emergency room, collapsed lungs, and multiple surgeries. After a brief struggle for life, 14-year-old Miles Freeman was gone.

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What is MRSA?

Modern medicine has rendered many diseases far less frightening than they must have been in ages past, when many common ailments were a death sentence to those who were unfortunate enough to be afflicted. New medicines have been created to specifically target certain diseases; advanced technology allows doctors to access and fix problems previously inaccessible, and increasing knowledge of the role genetics plays in our health has given doctors new options to make patients better. But there are still diseases which instill fear and hopelessness in their victims despite all modern advances in medicine. One such disease, which killed Miles Freeman as it has many others, is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA.

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The drug resistant staph infection known as MRSA has been causing alarm in the medical community since it was first discovered in 1961. As MRSA has become progressively resistant to more and more antibiotics, fear of this bacterium has grown increasingly intense and prevalent. The mortality rate for those infected with MRSA is 20-50%, and MRSA claimed the lives of 5000 people in 2013, based on the estimates of the Centers for Disease Control. The infection rate has been steadily decreasing since 2005. Of course, while this is positive news, it is not the desperately sought remedy for this deadly affliction.

A Medieval Remedy

Unable to find a true remedy among the many medical advances of the present, scientists have made a surprising discovery while studying medicine of the past – as in long past. After translating a medieval manuscript which documents the recipe for a plant-based eye ointment used 1,000 years ago, scientists recreated this ointment and found it remarkably effective in treating MRSA. A solution containing the medieval ointment was used to treat the tissue of infected mice and killed 90% of the MRSA bacteria present. Unfortunately for the mice, they were already dead – because they were purposely infected with MRSA.

This medieval ointment from Bald’s Leechbook – a recipe which includes the bile of a slaughtered cow, garlic, honey, onion, and leek – may sound like more of a witch’s brew than a medicinal concoction, but the researchers are invigorated by the discovery, from which they now must continue to research and refine in order to come up with a medicine which can survive the sometimes insurmountable obstacle of FDA approval. And not everyone is excited about the possibilities. Helen King, professor of Classical Studies at “The Open University,” wrote an article, posted 9 April 2015 on The Conversation, expressing skepticism on the implications of the discovery, the motives of the experiment, and the composition of the research team itself.

Bottom Line

Researchers from the University of Nottingham discovered a recipe for eye ointment from a 9th century medical text called Bald’s Leechbook. After creating the ointment from this recipe, the researchers found it killed 90% of MRSA bacteria on infected tissue samples they treated. Researchers must now refine the recipe and obtain FDA approval in order to overcome skepticism and finally produce an effective weapon to combat this modern deadly disease.

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Hoaxes & Rumors

Randal A. Burd Jr. is a freelance writer, educator, and poet from Missouri. He is also a Kentucky Colonel and a genealogy enthusiast.

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