An everyday mouthwash used in most homes could be used to treat the prevalent sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea.
A new study shows that the simple act of gargling with Listerine significantly reduces the gonorrhea bacteria in the throats of infected people.
Gonorrhea is a contagious disease transmitted most often through sexual contact.
The claim that Listerine was a cheap and easy way to prevent and control the infection was made by the manufacturers since 1879 but has only now been tested by a team of Australian experts concerned about the resurgence of gonorrhea infections across the globe, especially among gay and bisexual men.
Scientists led by Eric Chow, a research fellow at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre in Australia, first grew cultures of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria in the lab, then applied different dilutions of two different types of alcohol-containing Listerine mouthwash.
They found that Listerine “significantly reduced” the amount of bacteria on the culture plates, whereas a saline solution did not.
The team then conducted a second trial with 58 gay or bisexual men who were infected with gonorrhea to test the bacteria levels in their throats before and after gargling with Listerine or with a saline solution.
The researchers found that those who had gargled with Listerine had significantly lower proportions of viable gonorrhea on the surface of their throats than those who had just used saline solution (52 percent vs 84 percent).
The researchers also concluded that the Listerine users had 80 percent lower odds of testing positive for gonorrhea than the men who gargled with salt water.
“Use of mouthwash could reduce the duration of infection and hence could reduce the number of gonorrhoea cases,” said Chow.
The scientists however acknowledge that they were not sure how long those results last, or how long men would have to gargle and rinse with the mouthwash to prevent future gonorrhea infections in the throat.
The scientists are planning to continue their research with a larger trial involving 500 men.