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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December 2004, 17:55 GMT
Aromatherapy oils 'kill superbug'
The oils are more usually used in aromatherapy
Essential oils could kill the deadly MRSA hospital 'superbug', scientists have claimed.

University of Manchester researchers found three of the oils, usually used in aromatherapy, destroyed MRSA and E.coli bacteria in two minutes.

They suggest the oils could be blended into soaps and shampoos which could be used in hospitals to stop the spread of the superbug.

Hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA, kill an estimated 5,000 a year.

The Manchester study was triggered when complementary medicine specialists at Christie Cancer Hospital asked university researchers to test essential oils.

Our research shows a very practical application which could be of enormous benefit to the NHS and its patients
Jacqui Stringer, Christie Hospital, Manchester
They wanted to ensure they could not harm the patients, whose immune systems are weakened by the treatments.

Dr Peter Warn, who carried out the research, said: "When I tested the oils in the lab, absolutely nothing grew. Rather than stimulating bacteria and fungi, the oils killed them off."

Soaps and shampoos

The team then tested 40 essential oils against 10 of the most infectious agents found in hospitals, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus).

Two of the oils were found to kill MRSA and E.coli almost instantly, while a third was found to act over a longer period of time.

However, the researchers say they are unable to reveal which oils carry benefits because of commercial sensitivities.

MRSA is often carried in patients' nostrils, and is currently treated by putting disinfectant on the area to kill the bacterium - which many patients often find unpleasant.

Dr Warn says the essential oils could be used to create much more pleasant inhalation therapies - which he said were likely to have a much higher success rate than the current treatment, which is only effective in around 50% of cases."

Dr Warn said: "We believe that our discovery could revolutionise the fight to combat MRSA and other superbugs."

But he said the team now needed around 30,000 in order to continue its research.

Jacqui Stringer, clinical leader of complementary therapies at Christie Hospital in Manchester, instigated the oils research.

She said: "Our research shows a very practical application which could be of enormous benefit to the NHS and its patients.

"The reason essential oils are so effective is because they are made up of a complex mixture of chemical compounds which the MRSA and other superbug bacteria finds difficult to resist."

The Department of Health evaluates products which are claimed to prevent or treat HAIs before it permits them to be used across the NHS.


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