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Use of Germicides in the Home and the Healthcare Setting Is There a Relationship Between Germicide Use and Antibiotic Resistance?

  • David J. Weber (a1) and William A. Rutala (a1)
Abstract
Background.

The spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens represents an increasing threat in healthcare facilities. Concern has been expressed that the use of surface disinfectants and antiseptics may select for antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Objective.

To review the scientific literature on whether there is a link between use of germicides (ie, disinfectants and antiseptics) and bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In addition, we will review whether antibiotic-resistant bacteria exhibit altered susceptibility to germicides that are recommended for use as disinfectants or antiseptics.

Design.

A review of the appropriate scientific literature.

Results.

In the laboratory, it has been possible to develop bacterial mutants with reduced susceptibility to disinfectants and antiseptics that also demonstrate decreased susceptibility to antibiotics. However, the antibiotic resistance described was not clinically relevant because the test organism was rarely a human pathogen, the altered level of antimicrobial susceptibility was within achievable serum levels for the antibiotic, or the antibiotic tested was not clinically used to treat the study pathogen. Similarly, wild-type strains with reduced susceptibility to disinfectants (principally, quaternary ammonium compounds) and antiseptics (principally, triclosan) have been reported. However, because the concentration of disinfectants used in the healthcare setting greatly exceeds the concentration required to kill strains with reduced susceptibility to disinfectants, the clinical relevance of these observations is questionable.

Conclusion.

To date, there is no evidence that using recommended antiseptics or disinfectants selects for antibiotic-resistant organisms in nature. Disinfectants and antiseptics should be used when there are scientific studies demonstrating benefit or when there is a strong theoretical rationale for using germicides.

Copyright
Corresponding author
CB #7030 Bioinformatics Building, 130 Mason Farm Road, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7030, (brutala@unch.unc.edu)
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