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Disinfectant Exposure Increases Antibiotic Resistance

NSF Award:

Disinfectant-Induced Antibiotic Resistance: Relevance, Mechanisms and Practical Considerations  (Georgia Tech Research Corporation)

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Long-term exposure to disinfectants significantly increases microbial resistance to antibiotics, according to researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The withdrawal of disinfectants results in antibiotic resistance falling back to natural levels.  

The antibiotic resistance by microbial communities has far-reaching implications for human and environmental health. Understanding and quantifying this resistance should improve current clinical, home and industrial use practices.

Although antibiotic resistance is generally attributed to excessive antibiotic use, a number of other substances now appear responsible for increased resistance. Disinfectants, for instance, play a significant role in personal hygiene. They are often used in large quantities at places such as hospitals and food processing plants. The challenge for researchers is obtaining a fundamental understanding of the underlying mechanisms that link disinfectants and antibiotic resistance. By examining factors related to the likelihood that disinfectants and antibiotics will degrade, the researchers can demonstrate their safe and effective use.

Spyros Pavlostathis and Kostas Konstantinidis and their research teams at Georgia Tech have used novel environmental biotechnology and molecular biology techniques to provide new quantitative insight into the effects of a widely used class of disinfectants called quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs). Their work has shown a significant increase in antibiotic resistance in communities exposed to QACs over time, but for QAC withdrawal, antibiotic resistance decreases back to natural levels.  


  • montage shows disinfectant-free environments are less resistant to antibiotics than those environments treated with disinfectant
Disinfectant-free environments are more likely to respond to antibiotics.
Spyros G. Pavlostathis, Georgia Tech

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