Carbon monoxide found to multiply effectiveness of antibiotics – but at what cost to health?
03/15/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

According to a study led by researchers from Georgia State University, the efficacy of antibiotics can be improved by combining them with carbon monoxide.

The results of the study determined that once both components are combined, bacteria become more sensitive to antibiotic medication.

For the study, scientists paired carbon monoxide with the antibiotic metronidazole. Results showed that carbon monoxide boosts the effectiveness of the antibiotic against a type of bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. This particular bacterium affects the stomach and causes peptic ulcers.

Dr. Binghe Wang, Regents’ Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Diagnostics & Therapeutics at Georgia State, explained that administering carbon monoxide with an antibiotic called metronidazole can "sensitize bacteria toward the same antibiotic by 25-fold."

Dr. Wang commented that even though there is discourse concerning drug resistance, it doesn't automatically mean that these bacteria don't respond to antibiotics. In most cases, it just indicates decreased sensitivity. He concluded that "[i]f you can resensitize bacteria or sensitize them, then that would allow you to either use a smaller amount of antibiotic or use the same amount that would kill many, many more bacteria."

Despite the fact that carbon monoxide is notorious for being toxic at high concentrations, it has potential as a medical gas. The human body naturally produces carbon monoxide and it is necessary for survival.

Carbon monoxide is also crucial when it comes to minimizing inflammation, boosting cell proliferation, and managing cellular immune response to pathogens. Research has proven that carbon monoxide also has antimicrobial effects. (Related: 6 Hidden Health Hazards in the Home.)


The researchers created a prodrug system for the study that releases three components, namely carbon monoxide, the antibiotic metronidazole, and a fluorescent molecule, that monitored the release of carbon monoxide.

A prodrug is the prototype of a drug that has to be subjected to a chemical conversion before it is turned into an active pharmacological agent. This prodrug system features a three-reaction sequence that becomes active when immersed in water, which sets the reaction in motion.

The researchers studied H. pylori bacteria in a culture dish, then compared the effect of the antibiotic metronidazole on the bacteria against the prodrug system that combined metronidazole and carbon monoxide.

Tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Although carbon monoxide is a promising medical gas, exposure to the gas can still be bad for your health. Here are some tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Check your vents – Inspect the ventilation systems in your home, such as floor vents, dryer vents, and chimneys, and remove any debris or other obstructions that might prevent carbon monoxide from being released outside.
  • Follow a maintenance schedule – Get a qualified professional to inspect any fuel-burning appliances, such as a furnace and wood-burning stove, yearly. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for other required maintenance. Chimneys must be inspected and cleaned by a licensed professional at least once a year.
  • Know the signs – Mild or moderate exposure to carbon monoxide can cause side effects like blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, dull headaches, nausea, physical weakness, or shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms and they stop once you leave your house, get your whole family and any pets outside and contact your local fire department.
  • Leave the BBQ outside – Don't risk carbon monoxide poisoning by bringing the barbecue grill into your garage or basement. Never bring an outdoor gas appliance inside such as generators or any other appliances with gas-powered engines.
  • Set up alarms – To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, install a detector in your home. You'll only need at least one alarm for each level of your house. Place the alarms near the bedrooms and ensure that it isn't blocked by any furniture or drapes. Don't forget to test the alarms each month, maintain them properly, and replace the batteries and units as needed.

You can learn more about other findings on medicine and antibiotics at

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