The aim of this study was to seek additional data on the antimicrobial susceptibility of Staphylococcus spp. after habituation to low levels of the topical antimicrobial agent tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil. Meticillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), meticillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS) were habituated to 0.075% tea tree oil for 3 days. Subsequently, the susceptibility of five isolates each of MSSA, MRSA and CoNS to fusidic acid, mupirocin, chloramphenicol, linezolid and vancomycin was determined by Etest, and susceptibility to tea tree oil, terpinen-4-ol, carvacrol and triclosan was determined by agar dilution. Following habituation to 0.075% tea tree oil, antimicrobial MICs differed between control and habituated isolates on 33 occasions (out of a possible 150), with MICs being higher in habituated isolates on 22 occasions. Using clinical breakpoint criteria, one MSSA isolate changed susceptibility category from vancomycin-susceptible (MIC=2 μg/mL) to intermediate susceptibility (MIC=3 μg/mL) after habituation in one of two replicates. For the non-antibiotic antimicrobial agents, MICs of habituated and control isolates differed on 12 occasions (out of a possible 120); 10 occasions in MRSA and 2 occasions in MSSA. MICs were higher for habituated isolates on five occasions. However, all the differences were one serial dilution only and were not regarded as significant. Habituation to sublethal concentrations of tea tree oil led to minor changes in MICs of antimicrobial agents, only one of which may have been clinically relevant. There is no evidence to suggest that tea tree oil induces resistance to antimicrobial agents.
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. and the International Society of Chemotherapy. All rights reserved.