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Novel approach fights leprosy

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2:18pm, October 9, 2006
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From San Francisco, at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy

An antibiotic typically used to fight sinus infections and pneumonia shows remarkable potency against leprosy.

In a study of leprosy patients in the Philippines, Robert H. Gelber, a physician at the University of California, San Francisco and his team treated 10 men with oral moxifloxacin daily for 2 months, followed by standard drugs for leprosy. Within 2 weeks of the moxifloxacin therapy, skin lesions on the men were clearing up. Skin biopsies showed that in all 10 patients, Mycobacterium leprae—the microbe that causes the disease—was undetectable within a week or two.

"In my 40 years of treating leprosy, I've never seen anything like this," Gelber says.

Typically, doctors use drug combinations against the disease, which as of 2004 afflicted 286,000 people worldwide. Gelber says that moxifloxacin by itself killed the microbe faster than the commonly prescribed rifampin or any other antimicrobial he has used against leprosy.

Because of the facial disfigurement that leprosy causes, a treatment that works faster than the standard drug combinations do would be welcome, Gelber says. "Leprosy patients get very discouraged" with the slow pace of improvement on standard treatments, he says. "They lose confidence that the stuff is really working."

Although Gelber noted that this trial was just a pilot study, he predicts that moxifloxacin will become a regular part of drug combinations for the disease.

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