Saturday, April 28, 2007

Honey May Help in the Battle Against Superbugs

The Economist, April 28, 2007

HOSPITALS do more than house sick patients while they are treated. They also provide convenient havens for dangerous bacteria. Cramming infirm people into one place creates the ideal breeding ground for disease. Add a sprinkling of antibiotics and drug-resistant strains emerge­the superbugs that are endemic in many places. One doctor, however, thinks he has rediscovered an old weapon that could be useful in the fight against these nasties. It is honey.

Honey was commonly used in medicine before antibiotics became widespread. It is still used in the Antipodes; an Australian company makes a product called Medihoney for medicinal use. This formulation is a certified medicine in Europe, but has not been much used there because doctors developed a taste for prescribing conventional antibiotics.

Arne Simon of Bonn University Children's Clinic in Germany is now leading an international study to compare honey with existing drugs. The investigation will involve 150 patients in several countries including Britain, Germany and Australia.

Dr Simon has already used honey on 150 patients who were not responding to treatment, with some promising results. The patients were often children whose immune systems had been weakened by chemotherapy, which left their wounds from surgery vulnerable to infection. Around a third of them were also given some antibiotics at the same time as having their wounds dressed with honey. One patient, whose wounds had become infected by the potentially fatal strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin (MRSA), and who failed to respond to other drugs, was free of this superbug within 48 hours of receiving the honey treatment...

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