Honey may be key in fight against superbugs

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: July 14th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Honey has long been prized for its medicinal values. Through the years, it has been used for ailments as wide-ranging as smallpox, baldness, eye disease and intestinal distress. Even today, many of us reach for the honey when our throats become sore.

Now, researchers have found that honey may be an important new ally in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections, commonly referred to as MRSA [MUR-sah].

Scientists at the University of Wales Institute tested the way manuka [mah-NU-kah] honey interacts with three different kinds of bacteria that commonly infect wounds, including MRSA.

Manuka honey is derived from nectar collected by honeybees foraging on the manuka trees of New Zealand. While all honey has antiseptic properties, manuka honey is between ten and fifty times more powerful.

The researchers said their findings suggest that honey reduces the attachment of bacteria to tissues, a step that commonly leads to acute infections. This blocking effect also hinders the creation of bio-films, a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to the surface of a wound. Biofilms can protect bacteria from antibiotics and allow them to cause persistent infections.

The discovery is important because MRSA is a major concern in many hospitals. It is a highly resistant version of Staph, a common germ that can cause serious infections. The superbug is responsible for about sixty percent of all skin infections seen in hospital emergency rooms. If the bacteria invade broken skin, life-threatening infections in the lungs, blood, bone, joints and nervous system can result.

The researchers say their ultimate goal is to help create a product that combines honey and antibiotics that could be applied directly to wounds and halt the spread of infection in hospitals.

That just might give bees something to buzz about.