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Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1991 Oct;35(10):1997-2002.

Chlorhexidine resistance in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or just an elevated MIC? An in vitro and in vivo assessment.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, St. Thomas' Hospital, United Medical School, London, England.


Chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub; ICI) is generally accepted to be effective as an antiseptic hand wash for methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), but there is dispute whether the chlorhexidine MIC for methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains is higher than that for MSSA strains and, indeed, whether it is relevant. In addition, the link between resistance to chlorhexidine, gentamicin, and "nucleic acid-binding" compounds (NAB; which code, in particular, for propamidine isethionate and ethidium bromide) requires clarification. We performed chlorhexidine MIC and rate of kill tests on a number of MSSA and MRSA isolates. Two gentamicin-resistant MRSA isolates without NAB plasmids were more susceptible (0.25 and 0.5 microgram/ml) than four of eight MSSA that we tested (range, 0.25 to 2 microgram/ml). Chlorhexidine MICs were higher (4 to 8 micrograms/ml) for seven distinct MRSA isolates with plasmids conveying resistance to gentamicin and NAB (GNAB). Curing of the GNAB plasmid from MRSA strains resulted in a fall in the MIC (1 to 3.3 micrograms/ml), but no consistent fall in killing by chlorhexidine was observed. No effect on the chlorhexidine MIC or killing was observed when we cured strains of methicillin resistance. GNAB plasmid transfer resulted in a rise in the chlorhexidine MIC for the strains but not consistent fall in killing by chlorhexidine. Ethical approval was granted for 10 volunteers to each have a methicillin-susceptible, GNAB-resistant, derived transcipient and its GNAB-susceptible isogenic parent applied to separate sites in an in vivo skin test; no significant difference was seen in survival rates after the application of chlorhexidine. These results suggest that chlorhexidine appears to be as effective as a hand-washing agent for MRSA isolates with or with out NAB plasmids as it is for MSSA isolates.

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