Everything Old Is New Again (Or, How the Vikings Cured MRSA)

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Everything Old Is New Again (Or, How the Vikings Cured MRSA)

“Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together, take wine and bullocks’ gall, of both equal quantities, mix with the leek, put this then into a brazen vessel, let it stand nine days in the brass vessel, wring out through a cloth and clear it well, put it into a horn, and about night time apply it with a feather to the eye; the best leechdom.”

-Bald’s Leechbook, courtesy Christina Lee, Viking Studies Professor at the University of Nottingham

The National Institute of Health reports that “during the past four decades, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, has evolved from a controllable nuisance into a serious public health concern. MRSA is largely a hospital-acquired infection, in fact, one of the most common. Recently, however, new strains have emerged in the community that are capable of causing severe infections in otherwise healthy people.”

The reason that MRSA is such a problem is, of course, in the name. Methicillin is a type of antibiotic in the penicillin family. Because of this, the effectiveness of similar drugs is hindered when fighting MRSA, and a different class of antibiotic must be used. Vancomycin is the antibiotic of choice for treating resistant bacterial infections.

Bacteria, unfortunately, have the rare ability to exchange genetic information with relative ease. Because of a high reproductive rate, bacterial strains that are resistant to certain types of antibiotics can spread quickly and have devastating effects. If MRSA were to develop a tolerance to Vancomycin, an otherwise treatable infection could have disastrous consequences.

Oddly enough, the Vikings (not the ones from Minnesota) may have discovered an effective cure as long ago as the 10th century. As CBS reports, “Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon expert at the University of Nottingham, found the recipe for a remedy for eye infections in a 10th Century medical volume called Bald’s Leechbook, one of the earliest known medical textbooks. The instructions were clear – clear enough to follow today – so she brought it to a microbiology lab at the university to see if it really works against bacteria.”

The results were astonishing, to say the least. The lab results showed that Bald’s salve was 99.9% effective at killing antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. With a pressing need for new medicines to effectively treat emerging problems, the best solutions may lie where no one expected; in our past. We’re looking forward to seeing more research on ancient remedies to modern problems, but in the meantime, MRSA continues to plague patients in hospitals everywhere. If you or someone you know has contracted MRSA after professional medical care, please contact us for a free consultation.