Is reduced susceptibility to disinfectants and antiseptics a risk in healthcare settings? A point/counterpoint review

J Hosp Infect. 2014 Aug;87(4):194-202. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2014.04.012. Epub 2014 Jun 5.


Background: Given the breadth and depth of antiseptic use, it is surprising how few large-scale studies have been undertaken into the consequences of their use, particularly in clinical practice. Depending on your point of view, this may either reflect an assurance that reduced susceptibility to antiseptics, and notably whether this confers cross-resistance to systemically administered antimicrobial agents, is not an issue of concern, or relative ignorance about the potential threat.

Aim: This point/counterpoint review offers a differentiated perspective and possible answers to the question, 'Should we be worried about reduced susceptibility to disinfectants and antiseptics in healthcare settings?'.

Methods: This topic was the subject of a debate by MHW (point) and SH (counterpoint) during the SHEA Spring Conference 2013: Advancing healthcare epidemiology and the role of the environment, held in Atlanta, GA, USA on 4(th) May 2013. This review is a general representation of the main themes presented during the debate, rather than a systematic review of the literature.

Findings: There are examples of reduced susceptibility to antiseptics in clinical practice; however, to date, there is no strong evidence that reduced susceptibility to antiseptics is a major clinical problem. Given the growing number of potential indications for use of biocidal active ingredients, the potential for emergence of reduced susceptibility remains a concern.

Conclusions: Changes in the clinical use of antiseptics should be matched with surveillance studies to understand whether there are unintended microbiological or clinical consequences, including the selection of bacterial strains that can survive exposure to antiseptics.

Keywords: Antimicrobial resistance; Antiseptic; Disinfectant; Epidemiology; Multi-drug-resistant bacteria; Reduced susceptibility.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology*
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Health Facilities*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Disinfectants