The use of manuka honey has been found to be effective in the treatment of a potentially lethal lung infection and reduce the severe side effects of the drugs currently used to try to combat the infection.

Treating Mycobacterium abscessus – an infection usually affects people with cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis – is problematic as it can be drug resistant, while the medication used to fight it can cause serious side effects.

Now researchers have combined the traditional drug used in treatment, amikacin, with manuka honey, which is now known for its antimicrobial activity. This new combination requires a smaller dosage of amikacin.

Dr Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology ay Aston University, said: “By combining a totally natural ingredient such as manuka honey with amikacin, one of the most important yet toxic drugs used for treating Mycobacterium abscessus, we have found a way to potentially kill off these bacteria with eight times less drug than before.

“This has the potential to significantly reduce amikacin-associated hearing loss and greatly improve the quality of life of so many patients – particularly those with cystic fibrosis.”

The study saw researchers use a lab-based lung model and a nebuliser, administering the combination of manuka honey and amikacin through a fine spray of liquid. Even with smaller dosages of amikacin, they found this combination improved bacterial clearance.

Up until now, Mycobacterium abscessus has been almost impossible to eliminate in people with cystic fibrosis. Having the infection also rules someone out of having a lung transplant, meaning it can be fatal.

Lead author and PhD researcher Victoria Nolan said: “So far treatment of Mycobacterium abscessus pulmonary infections can be problematic due to its drug resistant nature. The variety of antibiotics required to combat infection result in severe side effects.

“However, the use of this potential treatment combining amikacin and manuka honey shows great promise as an improved therapy for these terrible pulmonary infections.

“There is a need for better treatment outcomes and in the future we hope that this potential treatment can be tested further.”

The study has been published in the journal Microbiology.

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