Honey may help prevent hospital infections

Posted by Kym Provan on
Munuka honey

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It is great to read about the research that has been carried out at the University of Southampton and recently published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology. This has provided promising, if early evidence, that Manuka honey, a dark mono-floral honey, may in future be able to assist in preventing the development of infection from indwelling plastic medical devices such as indwelling catheters.

Scientists at the university used various dilutions of Manuka honey to see whether the honey would inhibit the growth of bacterial biofilm, a thin layer of microbes that build up on, and stick to any surface, including plastic. Their results demonstrated that even at low concentrations, the Manuka honey could help to reduce the 'stickiness' of the bacteria and therefore inhibit growth and the potential damage caused.

Although more research will be needed to better replicate the conditions of the human body before any stronger assurances can be given, this is a promising start.

Bacterial infection often complicates hospital treatment and is a major risk of all surgery and long-term hospital stays. The complications that they can lead to can be debilitating and even life-threatening. The risk of contracting a urinary tract infection from an indwelling catheter is well known. It is estimated that up to 1 in 4 inpatients in hospital may have to have a urinary catheter to drain urine from the bladder at some point during their stay and that 100 million urinary catheters are sold each year worldwide. Urinary tract infection contracted from a catheter can lead to serious complications including kidney damage and overwhelming sepsis if not treated effectively.

As a clinical negligence solicitor, I regularly deal with clients who have contracted such an infection whilst in hospital, which even when treated promptly, prolongs their hospital stay and recovery.

At particular risk are those clients who have to use a urinary catheter on a long-term basis, whether from spinal cord injury, radiotherapy damage or as a consequence of damage to their bladder. Expert reports considering these injuries and the impact that they have on a client's life invariably factor in the likelihood of the client contracting severe urinary tract infections at some point during their lifetime, requiring a period of hospitalisation.

Anything that could reduce the risk of such infections developing is to be welcomed, and the Southampton scientists are hopeful that the use of Manuka honey would not give rise to problems of antibacterial resistance that has arisen from the use of frequently prescribed antibiotics, and also believe that patients may benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties demonstrated in some of the darker honeys, like Manuka. Hopefully further research will result in positive steps being taken to reduce the incidence of infection from indwelling medical devices in the not too distant future.

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About the Author

Photograph of Kym Provan

Kym specialises in clinical negligence claims and heads our clinical negligence team in Southampton.

Kym Provan
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023 8085 7317

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