Chronic alcohol intake could lead to severe skin infection and researchers have now found that boosting immune responses of those suffering from alcoholism could address the problem.

The study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, found that increased sensitivity to infection related to chronic alcohol consumption is due to defective host defense responses, and treatment with a molecule called Interleukin-17 (IL-17) prevent this in mice.

"The clinical association between alcoholism and severe skin infection is well established," said one of the researchers Corey Parlet from the University of Iowa.

"The ability to experimentally model skin immune deficiencies that occur in chronic alcoholics opens up new avenues to test immune-based therapies to better protect this population and thereby limit the spread of infectious disease to the broader community as well," Parlet added.

To make their discovery, scientists administered either drinking water consisting of a 20 percent ethanol/water solution or plain water.

After 12 weeks on this fluid regimen, with a regular solid food diet, infection outcomes and host defence responses were assessed in mice that were given a skin infection with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

They found that ethanol-consuming mice demonstrated increased illness, including greater weight loss, larger skin lesions and increased bacterial burden.

The exacerbation of clinical disease corresponded with an inability to maintain immune cell numbers and activity at the site of infection, especially neutrophils, which are required to heal the infection.

Interleukin-17, a central player in the mammalian immune system, normally promotes the entry of neutrophils into the skin and their function there. This molecule was reduced in the skin of ethanol-consuming mice.

By restoring IL-17 levels, the skin injury in mice was reduced and bacterial clearance defects were improved, the researchers noted.