The bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes can be found all over the skin of healthy individuals. Normally, it causes few problems. If the skin is punctured, however, either through surgery or wounding, the bacteria can get inside and wreak havoc. Luckily, honey may be just what the doctor ordered.
S. pyogenes is particularly deadly when it forms a biofilm. When free-swimming bacteria, which would otherwise be susceptible to antibiotics, clump together into biofilms, they become distressingly resilient. The cells stick to surfaces with remarkable tenacity and are exceedingly difficult to kill. What’s worse is that S. pyogenes biofilms produce proteins that allow the bacteria to bind to the fibronectin that is prevalent at wound sites. The result can be a chronic wound that refuses to heal. Thus, disrupting the transition from solitary bacterium to biofilm member can be even more important than the outright killing of bacteria.
Sarah Maddocks and her colleagues from Cardiff Metropolitan University tested the effects of manuka honey (honey made almost exclusively from the Australian/New Zealand manuka, or Leptospermum scoparium) on S.pyogenes. Manuka honey is high in methylglyoxal, thought to have antibacterial properties.
The researchers found that although it took a solution of at least 40% manuka honey to kill almost all the S. pyogenes in a sample, as little as a 5% honey solution prevented most of the little buggers from congregating into biofilms. In addition, a 20% solution of honey significantly reduced the amount of fibronectin-binding protein made by the bacteria, which resulted in far less wound-attachment.
Will we see nurses slathering honey on their patients’ wounds in the near future? The authors did use ‘sterile medical grade manuka honey’ for this study, so who knows?