A new study has found a New Zealand kānuka honey can be used to treat cold-sores caused by the herpes simplex virus.

There had been in increased demand from consumers for natural alternatives to standard cold-sore treatment of anti-viral creams.

A trial led by researchers at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) found the honey formulation was just as effective as over the counter treatments used to reduce pain and heal a cold sore.

About 30 per cent of people are expected suffer recurrent attacks of cold sores which are caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus.

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Dr Alex Semprini. Photo / Supplied
Dr Alex Semprini. Photo / Supplied

MRINZ lead researcher Dr Alex Semprini said patients with a preference for natural and alternative medicines had an evidence-based, alternative option.

He said the study could give patients and pharmacists confidence in the effectiveness of the kānuka honey formulation.

The study, funded by Tauranga-based HoneyLab, enrolled 952 patients through 76 community pharmacies around New Zealand from 2015-2017.

The results were published in the British Medical Journal Open which showed a New Zealand kānuka honey formulation of Honevo, 90 per cent kānuka honey and 10 per cent glycerin was as effective as Viraban 5 per cent aciclovir cream.

The Pharmacy Guild of NZ chief executive Andrew Gaudin said it was an ideal opportunity for community pharmacy to be directly involved in a research initiative.

"They (pharmacies) could now utilise the results in future patient consultations," Gaudin said.

Semprini said the community pharmacy involvement was crucial for MRINZ who traditionally conducted hospital-based clinical trials on prescription medicines.

He said trials for the honey-based cream to treat eczema and acne are in the beginning stages in Australia.

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"We now have the beginnings of an Australian arm to the Network for trials this year on eczema and acne and have been working with the Pharmacy Guild here to develop formal professional development credits to pharmacists who take part in such studies".

The Health Research Council (HRC) chief executive professor Kathryn McPherson said there was "significant commercial potential" when new remedies were found in a New Zealand product.

"Some dismiss cold sores as minor but they can be quite distressing," said McPherson.

The HRC provided Independent Research Organisation (IRO) funding to MRINZ.

How was the study conducted?
Patients who sought treatment within the first 72 hours of a cold sore episode at participating pharmacies were asked if they wanted to take part.

They were randomly assigned either a 5 per cent aciclovir cream, 475 of the patients, or the medical-grade kānuka honey, 477 of the patients.

They were asked to apply it five times a day and record information on their pain and cold sore progression through their smartphones or diaries and compare recovery rates to supplied photos.

Entries were monitored for 14 days or until fully healed and both showed the median time to heal was eight to nine days for both treatments with no serious side effects reported.

The formulations use in the trial:
- The New Zealand -- honey formulation on Honevo: 90 per cent honey and 10 per cent glycerin
- Viraban: 5 per cent aciclovir cream