Some bacteria have become resistant to every commonly prescribed antibacterial drug. But scientists found that raw Manuka honey, as it is known in New Zealand, or jelly bush honey, as it is known in Australia, killed every bacteria or pathogen it was tested on.
It is applied externally and acts on skin infections, bites and cuts.
The honey is distinctive in that it comes only from bees feeding off tea trees native to Australia and New Zealand, said Dee Carter, from the University of Sydney's School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences.
Professor Rose Cooper from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff has looked at how manuka honey interacts with three types of bacteria that commonly infest wounds: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Group A Streptococci and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Her group has found that honey can interfere with the growth of these bacteria in a variety of ways and suggests that honey is an attractive option for the treatment of drug-resistant wound infections.
Honey has long been acknowledged for its antimicrobial properties. Traditional remedies containing honey were used in the topical treatment of wounds by diverse ancient civilisations. Manuka honey is derived from nectar collected by honey bees foraging on the manuka tree in New Zealand and is included in modern licensed wound-care products around the world. However, the antimicrobial properties of honey have not been fully exploited by modern medicine mostly because it's not patentable.
Studies on the Manuka Honey benefits have shown that Manuka Honey, has powerful antibacterial, anti microbial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti fungal properties.
Current findings on Manuka Honey are likely to have a major impact on modern medicine and could lead to a range of honey-based products to replace antibiotic and antiseptic creams.
"Most bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one antibiotic, and there is an urgent need for new ways to treat and control surface infections," Professor Carter said.
"New antibiotics tend to have short shelf lives, as the bacteria they attack quickly become resistant. Many large pharmaceutical companies have abandoned antibiotic production because of the difficulty of recovering costs. Developing effective alternatives could therefore save many lives."
None of the bacteria researchers have used to test the honey, including superbugs such as flesh-eating bacteria, built up any immunity.
She said a compound in the honey called methylglyoxal -- toxic on its own -- combined in unknown ways with other unidentified compounds in the honey to cause "multi-system failure" in the bacteria.
The results of the research project are published in this month's European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
This research may increase the clinical use of manuka honey as doctors are faced with the threat of diminishingly effective antimicrobial options.
Innovative and effective ways of controlling wound infections that are unlikely to contribute to increased antimicrobial resistance are needed. It has already been demonstrated that manuka honey is not likely to select for honey-resistant bacteria, so the potential is enormous.
At present, most antimicrobial interventions for patients are with systemic antibiotics. "The use of a topical agent to eradicate bacteria from wounds is potentially cheaper and may well improve antibiotic therapy in the future. This will help reduce the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from colonised wounds to susceptible patients."
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.