Mouthwash Helps Kill Gonorrhea? It's True

Listerine doesn't just help provide fresh breath. A new study shows its fighting properties against gonorrhea.

A medicine cabinet staple could help gonorrhea infection and assist in reducing the antibiotic resistance rate.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, just behind chlamydia. In 2015, there were a total of 395,216 cases—an increase of 12.8% from 2014. While gonorrhea is curable with the right medication followed as directed, it can lead to permanent health complications if left untreated.

Researchers from Australia studied Listerine, a popular mouthwash, and its impact on Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea. They conducted the research both in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and in vitro study.

“Rising rates of gonorrhoeae heighten the risk of the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae,” the researchers said in a statement, “making the need for a preventive measure that doesn’t rely on condoms even more urgent.”

In the RCT portion of this study, 196 men who have sex with men (MSM) who previously had a positive culture for gonorrhea. The men returned to a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia for a follow-up visit from May 2015 to February 2016. During those visits, 58 men (30%) still tested positive for the STD. Of those men, 33 were assigned to rinse and gargle with Listerine and the other 25 were given a saline solution.

Viable gonorrhea was measured after the participants rinsed and gargled with their given liquids for one minute. The proportion of gonorrhea in the throat dropped after one minute of rinsing and gargling. Viable infection measured in at 52% and 84% for the participants using Listerine and saline, respectively. Five minutes after gargling, those using Listerine were 80% less likely to test positive for the STD.

The team acknowledged that these are preliminary results and it’s possible that these mouthwash effects may just be short-term. However, in vitro research also showed that Listerine significantly reduced the total N. gonorrhoeae counts, but the control solution, phosphate buffered saline, did not.

“The data suggest Listerine, significantly reduces the amount of N. gonorrhoeae on the pharyngeal surface,” the team concluded. “With daily use it may increase gonococcal clearance and have important implications for prevention strategies.”

The study, “Antiseptic mouthwash against pharyngeal Neisseria gonorrhoeae: a randomized controlled trial and an in vitro study,” was published in the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections. The news release was provided by the BMJ.

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