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Is manuka honey our new fight against resistant superbugs?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Manuka honey is a natural medicine used for thousands of years to clean wounds and fight bacteria. Now scientists say that the honey could be used to combat the very modern threat of drug-resistant superbugs.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A recent study has shown that manuka honey can fight back on two fronts, killing MRSA and other superbugs, but also prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Professor Dame Sally Davies described the growing presence of drug-resistant super bugs as a "ticking time bomb" which could leave millions vulnerable to untreatable germs within a generation.

However, a new study in Australia offers a solution. At the University of Technology Sydney, tests were carried out on manuka, kanuka and clover honeys to find which was best at treating bacteria commonly found in chronic skin wounds.

By far the most capable at treating wounds Comvita medical-grade manuka honey, made by bees foraging on New Zealand's manuka trees. When combined with common antibiotics, the honey hampered the spread of bacteria on wounds.

More importantly, scientists found the honey prevented the bugs from developing any resistance to antibiotics. "Manuka honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last resort, as it so often is," Professor Liz Harry, of the university said.

A previous study which found that the honey was effective against more than 80 types of bacteria, including MRSA. Commercial honey bought at shops is not suitable as it needs to be sterilized to make it medical grade.

Infections have since become more difficult to defeat, but no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.

A previous study that found manuka honey is effective against more than 80 different types of bacteria, including hospital superbug MRSA.

"We have shown bacteria do not become resistant to honey in the laboratory. Consistent with these facts, we also found that if MRSA were treated with just rifampicin [antibiotic], the superbug became resistant very quickly," Harry said.

"However, when manuka honey and rifampicin are used in combination to treat MRSA, rifampicin-resistant MRSA did not emerge. In other words, honey somehow prevents the emergence of rifampicin-resistant MRSA - this is a hugely important finding."

With overuse of antibiotics partly blamed for the increase in resistant superbugs, doctors are being asked to prescribe fewer antibiotics to patients. While infections are becoming increasingly difficult to beat, no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.

"With the existence now of bacteria that are resistant to all available antibiotics, and the death of new antibiotics on the market, manuka honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last resort as it so often does," Harry adds.

"What we need is an acceptance by society that antibiotics are not going to provide all that we hoped for when they were discovered in the 1940s; and that we need to start getting very serious about using alternatives to this, or use honey in addition to them."

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