Sticky treatment for staph infections

From Toronto, at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology

Honey made by bees pollinating a New Zealand bush can gum up bacteria, offering a potential new therapy for difficult-to-treat infections.

A scourge of hospitals, the pathogen called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus defies most antibiotics. But a handful of case reports notes that slathering manuka-bush honey on wound dressings seems to reverse staph infection.

The edible honey failed to sell in New Zealand because of its bitter taste, but for hospitals, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

Rose Cooper of the University of Wales Institute at Cardiff turned an electron microscope on S. aureus growing in petri dishes and saw that many of the bacteria got stuck after encountering manuka honey. The cells began to divide but then stopped. “It looks like they can’t complete the cell cycle,” she says.

Cooper also studied the bug’s reaction to syrup that contained only the honey’s sugars. This fake honey didn’t prevent S. aureus cells from dividing normally. “Something in the honey besides the sugars” stops the cells, says Cooper. Her team is now trying to identify this component.

Ancient Egyptian physicians famously treated wounds with honey, but modern doctors “are a bit reticent” about doing the same, says Cooper. However, sterile manuka honey has been available by prescription in the United Kingdom since 2004, and a hospital in Liverpool will soon launch a trial of the sticky stuff.

If the study goes well, manuka honey “could have a key role to play in controlling hospital-borne infections,” says Cooper.

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