Manuka honey, which is produced by bees that pollinate and feed on the nectar of the native manuka tree in New Zealand and Australia, has long been touted for its ability to treat a range of conditions such as wound infections.
Now, scientists revealed that Manuka honey can also serve as a powerful weapon against hospital-acquired infections.
In lab experiments, researchers from the Southampton University have shown that cleaning medical devices with solutions derived from the Manuka honey can reduce the ability of deadly bacteria to form into sticky and hard to remove layers that harbor infection by more than 75 percent.
The findings, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, could benefit groups of hospital patients with particular risks for bacterial infections. Flushing diluted Manuka honey through catheter, for instance, may help prevent potentially life-threatening urinary tract infection.
Urinary tract infection accounts for 40 percent of hospital-acquired infections and 80 percent of these is associated with catheter use. Study researcher Bashir Lwaleed said catheter infection needs to be addressed since it makes up a large proportion of hospital acquired conditions.
For the study, Lwaleed and colleagues diluted the honey with distilled water to produce concentrations ranging between 3.3 to 16.7 percent and applied the solutions to bacterial cultures. The researchers used E. coli and Proteus mirabilis, bacteria that are known to cause urine and bladder infections.
They found that even with a low dilution of about 3.3 percent, the manuka honey solution stopped bacteria from accumulating together and form layers of biofilms- thin layers that accumulate on surfaces and harbor infection.
"Our study demonstrates that diluted honey is potentially a useful agent for reducing biofilm formation on indwelling plastic devices such as urinary catheters, probably by using as a periodic flushing agent," the researchers wrote in their study [pdf].
Lwaleed and colleagues used Manuka for their study because the dark-colored honey is known for its antibacterial properties. The researchers, however, said that other types of honey may also work albeit they were not able to test these.
"We believe that patients might also benefit from honey's anti-inflammatory properties, which are generally stronger in dark honeys, such as manuka, and that antibacterial resistance is unlikely to be a factor when honey is used," Lwaleedand said.
The results were based on experiments conducted in the laboratory, which means that further studies are still needed before the honey can be used to help prevent infections in humans.