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From antiseptics to antibiotics – and back?

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German Medical Science GMS Publishing House
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  • Article
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  • Medicine

Abstract

There is no straight line to trace the trajectory of antiseptics; rather, this has been manifested more as a fluctuating line, a backwards and forwards movement, seen in the wake of major discoveries but of colossal mistakes too. While today no one would allow their prophylactic policies to be guided by miasma or contagia, there continues to be some uncertainly about how to manage anti-infectives effectively even today. When in 1941 the first human being was successfully treated with penicillin, interest in antiseptics gradually waned. From that time onwards, everything was treated with antibiotics, unleashing a race for the discovery of novel antibiotics, as witnessed decades earlier in the case of antiseptics. The significance of antiseptics declined to such an extent that among physicians they were associated merely with cleaning agents or sanitary disinfection. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century we know that the euphoria generated by antibiotics was just another station along the pathway of discoveries. Bacterial infections and new, hitherto unknown infectious diseases continue to play a major role. Several viral infections continue to be refractory to successful treatment and bacterial antibiotic resistance has become a problem worldwide. The most effective countermeasures no longer entail only the development of new antibiotics but above all responsible management of antibiotics and strict observance of infection control measures in the hospital setting. Set against that background, interest in antiseptics has been rekindled. In that spirit we can look eagerly forward over the coming years to further developments in antisepsis.

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