(NaturalNews) Faced with a growing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, hospitals in the United Kingdom are adopting traditional medicinal techniques to fight infection, such as maggots and honey.
Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other drug-resistant infections kill or hasten the death of 8,000 British patients per year, while MRSA now kills more people in the United States annually than AIDS.
At the Royal United Hospital in Bath, England, many wounds are now being disinfected with Manuka honey rather than pharmaceutical antibiotics.
"Honey has been used in healing for centuries, but now new products have overcome the problems associated with using conventional honey and bring it into a modern healthcare setting," said the hospital's Kate Purser.
Honey is one of the oldest forms of medicine known, and was employed both as food and antibiotic by the ancient Egyptians and, more recently, by German doctors during World War I. Its high sugar content means that the water in honey is almost chemically inert, making it unavailable for the growth of bacteria, fungi or viruses. A naturally occurring enzyme known as glucose oxidase also makes honey acidic enough to create a hostile environment for most bacteria.
The honey used by Royal United Hospital is not the same as the honey found on supermarket shelves, however. The honey is a variety known as Manuka honey, which is produced from the manuka plant, native to New Zealand. This honey is then irradiated to kill any trace bacterial spores.
According to Manuka honey products company Honeymark, the honey has proven effective at killing MRSA in scientific trials. While honey already contains a variety of chemicals that can be beneficial to the body -- such as the antioxidant pinocembrin, which only occurs in honey -- Honeymark claims that Manuka honey contains even more of these beneficial compounds, which are derived from the manuka flower.
"These medicinal compounds, in most cases, outperform many pharmaceuticals and traditional forms of medicine," the company said in a press release.
Honeymark claims that Manuka honey can be use both topically and internally to treat conditions caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, including infected wounds, acne, eczema, stomach ulcers or other gastrointestinal conditions, ringworm and upper respiratory infections. No side effects have been reported, and in contrast to pharmaceutical antibiotics, bacteria appear unable to develop resistance to Manuka honey.
Manuka has a further benefit over pharmaceuticals, according to Honeymark.
"Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers. When taken orally, antibiotics kill all bacteria, both good and bad," the company said. "For reasons that are currently unknown, Manuka Honey does not effect good bacteria in the body and only destroys harmful, infectious bacteria. This is something that pharmaceuticals have not been able to accomplish."
Dorothy Yeo of Bath said that honey dressings led to drastic improvement in her ulcer. "I felt I wasn't getting anywhere and the pain made it hard to sleep," she said. "But now I'm able to sleep without tablets, and new skin is forming over my ulcer. I'm very pleased and I'd recommend it to anyone."
While honey can kill the bacteria that cause infection, sometimes other measures are required to remove the dead tissue left by infection or injury. At Royal United Hospital, one such technique is the application of sterilized greenbottle fly larvae, more commonly known as maggots.
"We may use maggots when conventional dressings have not been successful or if a wound needs a more rapid form of treatment," Purser said. "There is something of the 'yuck' factor, but once the maggots are applied some people may feel a tickling sensation while most don't feel a thing."
Maggots consume rotting flesh while ignoring healthy tissue, thereby both cleaning out and disinfecting necrotic wounds.
"Someone explained the maggots were bred for this purpose only and I felt reassured," said Jack Foster of Keynsham, England. "After one treatment, there has already been some improvement and my second starts tomorrow."