Acquired resistance to chlorhexidine - is it time to establish an 'antiseptic stewardship' initiative?

J Hosp Infect. 2016 Nov;94(3):213-227. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2016.08.018. Epub 2016 Aug 26.


Chlorhexidine digluconate (CHG) is an antimicrobial agent used for different types of applications in hand hygiene, skin antisepsis, oral care, and patient washing. Increasing use raises concern regarding development of acquired bacterial resistance. Published data from clinical isolates with CHG minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) were reviewed and compared to epidemiological cut-off values to determine resistance. CHG resistance is rarely found in Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., Staphylococcus aureus or coagulase-negative staphylococci. In Enterobacter spp., Pseudomonas spp., Proteus spp., Providencia spp. and Enterococcus spp., however, isolates are more often CHG resistant. CHG resistance may be detected in multi-resistant isolates such as extremely drug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae. Isolates with a higher MIC are often less susceptible to CHG for disinfection. Although cross-resistance to antibiotics remains controversial, some studies indicate that the overall exposure to CHG increases the risk for resistance to some antibiotic agents. Resistance to CHG has resulted in numerous outbreaks and healthcare-associated infections. On an average intensive care unit, most of the CHG exposure would be explained by hand hygiene agents when liquid soaps or alcohol-based hand rubs contain CHG. Exposure to sub-lethal CHG concentration may enhance resistance in Acinetobacter spp., K. pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas spp., all species well known for emerging antibiotic resistance. In order to reduce additional selection pressure in nosocomial pathogens it seems to make sense to restrict the valuable agent CHG to those indications with a clear patient benefit and to eliminate it from applications without any benefit or with a doubtful benefit.

Keywords: Antiseptic stewardship; Chlorhexidine; Cross-resistance; Exposure; Resistance; Selection pressure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Antisepsis / methods*
  • Antisepsis / standards*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Chlorhexidine / pharmacology*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Drug Utilization / standards*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Chlorhexidine