Effect of antimicrobial agents on the ecological balance of human microflora

Lancet Infect Dis. 2001 Sep;1(2):101-14. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(01)00066-4.


The normal microflora acts as a barrier against colonisation of potentially pathogenic microorganisms and against overgrowth of already present opportunistic microorganisms. Control of growth of opportunistic microorganisms is termed colonisation resistance. Administration of antimicrobial agents, therapeutically or as prophylaxis, causes disturbances in the ecological balance between the host and the normal microflora. Most studies on the impact of antimicrobial agents on normal microflora have been carried out on the intestinal flora. Less is known on the effects on oropharyngeal, skin, and vaginal microflora. Disturbances in the microflora depend on the properties of the agents as well as of the absorption, route of elimination, and possible enzymatic inactivation and/or binding to faecal material of the agents. The clinically most common disturbances in the intestinal microflora are diarrhoea and fungal infections that usually cease after the end of treatment. A well-balanced microflora prevents establishment of resistant microbial strains. By using antimicrobial agents that do not disturb colonisation resistance, the risk of emergence and spread of resistant strains between patients and dissemination of resistant determinants between microorganisms is reduced. In this article, the potential ecological effects of administration of antimicrobial agents on the intestinal, oropharyngeal, and vaginal microflora are summarised. The review is based on clinical studies published during the past 10 years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria* / drug effects
  • Bacteria* / growth & development
  • Ecology*
  • Humans
  • Intestines* / drug effects
  • Intestines* / microbiology
  • Oropharynx* / drug effects
  • Oropharynx* / microbiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents