THE healing powers of honey have been known about for thousands of years, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, who put it on wounds.
But with the invention of penicillin and other antibiotics last century, it fell out of use in modern medicine.
Now, a leading doctor at Winchester’s Royal Hampshire County Hospital is using honey to tackle wound infections in patients from newborns to the elderly.
Results after a year suggest it could have the golden touch when it comes to beating bacteria, including some superbugs.
Not only has it killed MRSA, it has also halved infection rates for women who have given birth by Caesarean section and healed hard-totreat leg and foot ulcers.
Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the RHCH, pictured, said implications for the wider NHS could be “massive” in terms of saving lives, doctor and nurse time and reducing antibiotic use.
NHS chiefs have warned about the dangers of growing resistance to antibiotic drugs. It could leave millions at risk from untreatable germs in future.
But a new sterile, medical honey developed by father and son beekeepers and scientists in Ireland could offer one solution.
Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the RHCH, Andover War Memorial Hospital and Basingstoke hospital, is one of only two hospital trusts in the UK exploring clinical use of the substance known as Surgihoney.
While all honey contains natural antibacterial agents, Surgihoney had been bioengineered or “turbo-boosted” to make it even better at beating bugs than Manuka honey from New Zealand, which is generally regarded as most potent, says Dr Dryden.
Nurses successfully used Surgihoney to treat a newborn baby transferred from another hospital with the antibiotic resistant MRSA after stomach surgery.
Dr Dryden’s results showed it halved cases of women who develop wound infections after giving birth by Caesarean from six per cent to three per cent. About 190 women had a single sachet of honey applied directly to the surgical incision immediately after giving birth.
Nationally, about one in ten women get infections from C-sections, affecting thousands of women.
Dr Dryden,director of infection prevention and control at the hospital trust, has also used it to treat bed sores as well as foot and leg ulcers.
He said: “It has had 100 per cent success in that none of the wounds treated with Surgihoney have deteriorated and by far the majority have showed an improvement.”
Success stories include a 77-year-old man with a severely-infected leg ulcer at risk of amputation. His leg was saved after treatment with honey instead of antibiotics.
Dr Dryden plans to publish the results of his clinical evaluation at Basingstoke and Winchester hospitals in the next few months. The honey is already licensed for use in the UK.
He said: “I think it is an amazing wound care product. Honey is a fantastic natural medicine. It doesn’t damage the tissues but it kills the bugs.”