Oxygen as an Anti-Bacterial & Anti-Viral Agent

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Added Comment Since Original Publication 18-03-20

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Added Comment Following Original Publication.

Further to the short overview previously shared on social network platforms from Johns Hopkins Medicine, here follows an excerpt from the overview which is available for download here. Todays topic addresses viral and bacterial infections and explains how HBOT can boost the immune system and immune response to these.

[Wound] healing is supported by the prevention of infection. Infection doesn’t only exist in wounds though. It is a common component of illness, viral and bacterial infection, some kinds of poisoning and any occurrence that allows a pathogen or foreign element to take root in the body resulting in infection.


The below citations are largely directed at bacterial infection which is discussed in our article on necrotising soft tissue infection here . Following that are extracts from our overview considering viral infection and immune support.

“In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties oxygen also exhibits anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-biotic properties and can be used as a complimentary treatment to help control resistant infection”. [58] Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (Review) Tibbles Et al 1996

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(Hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of post-operative infections – A. Larsson et al. 2011 concludes that HBOT is a useful adjuvant for deep post-operative infection). Post-operative infection follows similar principals to other foreign body infection hence the relevance of the conclusion noted in the publication. [61] Hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of postoperative infections in paediatric patients with neuromuscular spine deformity A. Larsson et al. 2011

Also quoted from the conclusion of Not Just Full of Hot Air: “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Increases Survival in Cases of Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections” 2014 by Joshua J Shaw Et al. – June 2014. [15] Not Just Full of Hot Air: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Increases Survival in Cases of Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections Shaw Et al. – June 2014.

Conclusion: “At HBOT-capable centres, receiving HBOT was associated with a significant survival benefit. Use of HBOT in conjunction with current practices for the treatment of NSTI can be both a cost-effective and life-saving therapy, in particular for the sickest patients.” [15] Not Just Full of Hot Air: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Increases Survival in Cases of Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections Shaw Et al. – June 2014.

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Mentioned above, [previously], is the upregulation of tissue repair processes and this includes the release of granulocytes and phagocytes. (polymorphonuclear leukocytes or neutrophils).

Their role is to trap and destroy micro-organisms by ingestion and the breaking down of cell walls, as well as deploying intra-cellular bacterial protein destroying enzymes. This deconstructs pathogens as well as damaged cells or debris. Healing following injury or infection cannot take place without this removal of damaged cells, debris and any pathogens present.

Seemingly the use of HBOT would be contraindicated because it would appear to slow or stop the release of neutrophils associated with inflammation response to local hypoxia. Not strictly true though. [see also The Hyperoxic Hypoxic Paradox]. This paradox explains how even in the presence of elevated oxygen the hypoxic, and consequently the immune response is triggered in a relatively lower oxygen (although normal) concentration following treatment. Everything is relative. The return to normoxic levels following treatment triggers the hypoxic and immune response.

Beyond the inflammatory response, which is far better described in the book “Oxygen and The Brain – The Journey of our Lifetime” – Prof. Phillip B James 2014, the author also agrees that

oxygen also directly compromises the ability of any pathogen, virus etc to proliferate, that doesn’t like oxygen.

 [1] Oxygen and The Brain – The Journey of Our Lifetime – James 2014

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Many bacteria’s and viruses are described as anaerobic, that is they proliferate under anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions. High concentrations of oxygen have a direct effect on these micro-organisms which can help regain control of infection which has spiralled out of control as is the case with sepsis and non-healing wounds and also virulent viral infection.

As we know there are genrally no outright cures for viral infection. These are managed by prophylactic vaccination which stimulates the body into creating its own antibodies which are deployed by the immune system. In many of our articles we refer to the body as having it’s own pharmacy. It can make everything we need to heal on it’s own. HBOT simply extends that envelope and boosts the process. Immune boosting can be a valuable tool in avoiding serious illness.

In all likelihood HBOT won’t prevent viral infection at all, but it will better the body’s ability to fight it quickly and decisively reducing the severity and duration of the infection, including virulent viruses. We may all get the flu or other viral infection, and I suspect a great many of us will contract the latest addition to the viral family, Cornavirus. What the media is not necessarily promoting is that it is thought that the vast majority of us will recover well. Also a great many will have milder symptoms. We are more likely to recover quickly with a strong immune system supported not only by HBOT, but good diet and personal health and hygiene regime as well. HBOT can give that little extra support though. This could make a difference for those at higher risk, people with underlying health concerns and compromised immunity or pulmonary problems when contracting viral infection.

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©Hayden Dunstan

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