Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia
) has become a popular treatment for people with HIV. It is made from a tree that is native only to Australia. Tea tree oil is used to prevent or treat mild cases of a variety of infections, particularly fungal infections such as thrush. It is also useful against certain viral infections such as herpes simplex. Tea tree oil is available in lozenge, drop or capsule form and is sometimes added to toothpaste to ward off thrush. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy and may be diluted and rubbed on the skin to treat acne or fungal infections of the skin or nails. Several cases of hives and other allergic skin reactions to tea tree oil have been reported, so be sure to test it on a small area before you apply it more broadly. The results of test-tube studies support the idea that tea tree oil is effective against fungal infections, and several small studies evaluating its effectiveness against skin and nail infections have shown benefit. In one study of 13 men with AIDS who had thrush that was resistant to the antifungal drug fluconazole, gargling with a tea tree oil solution was effective in more than half of these hard-to-treat cases. Tea tree oil should not be swallowed.