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Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Apr;16(2):189-208.

Potential impact of increased use of biocides in consumer products on prevalence of antibiotic resistance.

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School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom.


There has recently been much controversy surrounding the increased use of antibacterial substances in a wide range of consumer products and the possibility that, as with antibiotics, indiscriminate use of biocides might contribute to the overall pattern of susceptibility in the general environment and in the clinic. Such speculation, based on the isolation of resistant mutants from in vitro monoculture experiments, is not reflected by an emergence of biocide-resistant strains in vivo. This review provides a broad coverage of the biocide and resistance literature and evaluates the potential risks, perceived from such laboratory monoculture experiments, against evidence gathered over 50 years of field studies. An explanation for the continued effectiveness of broad-spectrum biocidal agents against the decline in efficacy of therapeutic agents is provided based on the fitness costs of resistance and the ubiquity of naturally occurring substances that possess antibacterial effect. While we conclude from this review of the literature that the incorporation of antibacterial agents into a widening sphere of personal products has had little or no impact on the patterns of microbial susceptibility observed in the environment, the associated risks remain finite. The use of such products should therefore be associated with a clear demonstration of added value either to consumer health or to the product life. Hygienic products should therefore be targeted to applications for which the risks have been established.

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