Biocide Use and Antibiotic Resistance: The Relevance of Laboratory Findings to Clinical and Environmental Situations

Lancet Infect Dis. 2003 Dec;3(12):794-803. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(03)00833-8.


Antibiotics are used as chemotherapeutic drugs, and biocides are used as antiseptics, disinfectants, and preservatives. Several factors affect biocidal activity, notably concentration, period of contact, pH, temperature, the presence of interfering material, and the types, numbers, location, and condition of microorganisms. Bacterial cells as part of natural or artificial (laboratory) biofilm communities are much less susceptible than planktonic cells to antibiotics and biocides. Assessment of biocidal activity by bactericidal testing is more relevant than by determination of minimum inhibitory concentrations. Biocides and antibiotics may show some similarities in their mechanisms of action and common mechanisms of bacterial insusceptibility may apply, but there are also major differences. In the laboratory, bacteria can become less susceptible to some biocides. Decreased resistance may be stable or unstable and may be accompanied by a low-level increase in antibiotic resistance. Laboratory studies are useful for examining stress responses and basic mechanisms of action and of bacterial insusceptibility to antibacterial agents. Translation of such findings to the clinical and environmental situations to provide evidence of a possible relation between biocide use and clinical antibiotic resistance is difficult and should be viewed with caution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Laboratories


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Disinfectants