Antibiotics aren't supposed to be effective against viruses. But new evidence in mice suggests antibiotics may help fight norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus, report scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The researchers found antibiotics could help prevent norovirus infections. The same team also showed that a recently identified immune system molecule can cure persistent norovirus infections even in mice with partially disabled immune systems. The surprising findings, available online in Science, will appear Jan. 16 in the journal's print edition.
Outbreaks of norovirus are notoriously difficult to contain and can spread quickly on cruise ships and in schools, nursing homes and other closed spaces.
The researchers found that norovirus works its way into gut tissue in mice that have been pretreated with antibiotics but that the virus cannot establish a persistent infection. Follow-up studies showed that norovirus needs a bacterial collaborator to establish a persistent infection in the gut. Eradicating the bacterial partner with an antibiotic can prevent persistent norovirus infection in mice.
"The virus actually requires the bacteria to create a persistent infection," said senior author Herbert W. Virgin IV, MD, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology and head of the Department of Pathology and Immunology. "The virus appears to have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria they share the job of establishing persistence."