Manuka honey could be used to help keep internal medical devices such as urinary catheters free of infection, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have found that even low dilutions of Manuka honey can curb the activity and growth of bacterial biofilms – a thin layer of microbes that build up on, and stick to, any surface, including plastic.

The findings were published online in the Journal Of Clinical Pathology and could lead to the honey being used in patients fitted with medical devices such as urinary catheters, which carry a high infection risk.

Around 100 million urinary catheters are sold worldwide every year. Up to one in four hospital in-patients may have to use a catheter and their long-term use is associated with frequent complications.

However, long-term use of a catheter is associated with frequent complications such as inflammation and infection.

“We have been able to demonstrate that diluted honey is potentially a useful agent for reducing biofilm formation on indwelling plastic devices such as urinary catheters,” said associate professor Bashir Lwaleed.

“Catheter infection rates can account for a large proportion of hospital acquired infections – it is an area of clinical practice that needs addressing.

“We hope that these results may offer an alternative way of preventing such infections. We believe that patients might also benefit from honey’s anti-inflammatory properties, which are generally stronger in dark honeys, such as Manuka and that antibacterial resistance is unlikely to be a factor when honey is used.”