Klearsen Corp., a manufacturer of natural health-care products, announced it has developed a therapy that may be significantly more effective than traditional methods currently used to treat mycobacterium avium complex (MAC).

The new treatment, named Klearson Respiratory Inhalation Therapy, is believed to be the first non-antibiotic therapy designed to remedy the disease.

“There is [currently] no good therapy specifically for treating MAC,” said Steven Frank, chief technical officer at Klearsen in Boulder, Colo. “Based on the dramatic results we’ve been getting, it’s hard to describe how important the therapy’s impact will be on the treatment of this disease.”

Often called “hot tub lung,” MAC is an infection and allergic reaction of the lungs due to exposure to m. avium, a mycobacteria. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, wet cough, tightness in the chest and fever, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, N.Y.

The disease is not contagious and usually is contracted through exposure to wet environments such as hot tubs and indoor pools, which can provide ideal conditions for the growth of this type of bacteria.

Chlorine, which is often used to treat pool and spa water, loses most of its disinfectant properties at water temperatures above 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, the bacteria sometimes is carried into the air on the aerosols produced by spa jets.

Klearsen’s new therapy is based on an antimicrobial compound, KC-287. The compound is a liquid agent that is turned into a fine mist and inhaled through a nebulizer, sort of like a nasal spray. The therapy is designed to coat the inside of the patient’s lungs directly with the compound.

Research into KC-287 began in 1999 as a way to treat tuberculosis, but was put on hold due to limited funds. Though the company suspected the formula might be effective in fighting m. avium, it wasn’t until recently that it was able to perform those tests with the help of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver.

Lab results showed that KC-287 attenuated bacterial loads five to 10 times faster than antibiotics. Recent clinical trials also pointed to substantial improvement in recovery times vs. antibiotic protocols.

In one clinical trial conducted by Klearsen, a patient who suffered from hot tub lung for 12 years achieved results within the first three weeks of the therapy. The patient’s production of sputum, a phlegm caused by MAC, had reached a negative sample. After two months, her symptoms had been virtually eliminated.

“This is a very exciting period of demonstration for KC-287,” said Chris Grout, Klearsen’s vice president of marketing and sales. “We’ve all seen the dramatic capabilities of this product, and now it is finally reaching the surface where it can benefit huge portions of the population.”

The prevalence of hot tub lung is unknown. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not track the number of incidents or outbreaks. However, population-based data from Houston and a few other metropolitan areas suggest that one person in 100,000 contracts MAC each year.

Though Klearsen’s therapy was patented several years ago, the treatment has not yet received Food & Drug Administration approval.