Old drug, new cure

The discovery of an antibiotic that virtually halves the incidence of asthma attacks may one day be able to help some patients avoid catching pneumonia.

Research led by Australia’s Professor Peter Gibson, whose asthma study has been published in medical journal The Lancet, found the drug azithromycin cut asthma attacks in adult patients by 40 per cent.

Prof Gibson’s team at the NSW Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) said the antibiotic appeared to reduce inflammation in the lung’s small airways.

One in 10 Australians have asthma and elderly people with the disease are more prone to contract pneumonia as a side effect of their medication.

“It would be worth studying in future if the antibiotic could in some way break the link between asthma and pneumonia,” Prof Gibson told YourLifeChoices.

“At the moment we don’t have that evidence and nor do we recommend that antibiotics be used to prevent pneumonia. We support the use of vaccinations,” he said.

The HMRI team gave azithromycin three times a week to 200 patients whose asthma symptoms did not respond to standard treatment. After nearly a year, they reported a 40 per cent reduction in moderate and severe asthma attacks.

“The main problem in asthma is narrowing of the airways, and that’s caused by muscle spasms and inflammation,” Prof Gibson said.

“Azithromycin appears to work on the swelling and the mucus part of the problem.”

In a bid to avoid antibiotic resistance, the HMRI team is working on an inhaler version of the drug.

Azithromycin has been used since the 1980s to cure the lung disease diffuse panbronchiolitis.

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Written by Olga Galacho

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