The healing powers of honey have been known about for thousands of years. But Surgihoney, whose natural antibacterial properties have been boosted, is proving highly effective at treating infected wounds and superbugs.
The honey is believed to work by killing the bugs, removing dead tissue and pus, and then providing a moisture barrier as well as local nutrition.
Honey contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes and sugars – all of which help in the healing of wounds. Manuka is generally regarded as the most potent honey, but it relies upon nectar from a particular tree in New Zealand, limiting its supply.
That’s precisely the problem which has been solved by the developers of Surgihoney. They have created a product that can be made from organic honey from any floral source. They hope it will ultimately become a global wound-care product that will improve lives in poorer countries.
Lead researcher Dr Matthew Dryden, an NHS consultant microbiologist, is optimistic that the sterile, medical honey can revolutionise wound care around the world, reduce the use of antibiotics and provide an alternative to harsh chemical antiseptics.
Surgihoney speeds the healing of hard-to-treat leg and foot ulcers, pressure sores, trauma injuries and infected surgical wounds, according to the research. Potential benefits include less pain and fewer amputations.
Dryden says: “Surgihoney is active against all the bacteria we find in soft tissue wounds. The important extra is that it kills the bugs but doesn’t damage the tissue. Honey is a fantastic natural medicine.”
Surgihoney can even tackle wounds infected with strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, he says, including MRSA, E coli and pseudomonas. He describes honey as “turbo-boosted”.
Surgihoney, stored in 10g sachets, is simply squeezed on to wounds and dressed with gauze. Pilot trials (pdf) have been conducted in Hampshire in the UK, Yei civil hospital in South Sudan, and Vailola hospital in Tonga.
Dryden was lead author in a study that concludes: “As a wound treatment in the tropics, [Surgihoney] is an ideal, low-technology solution which is easily stored, applied and ought to be cost-effective.” And unlike more sophisticated medicines, it does not need to be refrigerated.
Before the pilot trials, Dryden’s research team at Winchester’s Royal Hampshire county hospital carried out laboratory experiments on bacteria gathered from infected wounds.
The results, explained in detail to the Federation of Infection Societies in November, suggest that Surgihoney is better at beating bugs than other honeys tested, including Manuka and a medical-grade honey called Medihoney, while equal to antiseptics, silver and iodine, which can be toxic to healing tissue.
A British nurse and wound care expert, Jill Brooks, has pioneered the use of Surgihoney in Sodo hospital in south-west Ethopia and Kisubu hospital in Uganda, where she volunteers several times a year.
“All the results I have seen have been positive; some have been very positive with rapid healing of wounds,” says the former lead tissue viability nurse for the NHS in Oxfordshire.
The standard local treatment of washing wounds in a weak solution of bleach has a big disadvantage, she says. “It is very good at killing bugs but is a very harsh thing to use as it destroys the good tissue and can delay healing.”
The success of the pilot tests paves the way for a bigger, randomised control trial.
Surgihoney is being developed by businessman Ian Staples, former managing director of Halfords, the motor accessories chain. He owned a farm in Chile with beehives that produced honey from the Ulmo tree. After a bad harvest, he and his son, Stuart, commissioned scientists to develop Surgihoney.
The honey has been approved for use in the UK as a wound-care dressing.