The use of topical antibiotics can dramatically alter communities of bacteria that live on the skin, while the use of antiseptics has a much smaller, less durable impact, according to results of a new study. The study, conducted in mice in the laboratory of Elizabeth Grice, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Dermatology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is the first to show the long-term effects of antimicrobial drugs on the skin microbiome. Researchers published their findings online on June 20, 2017 in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The article is titled “Topical Antimicrobial Treatments Can Elicit Shifts to Resident Skin Bacterial Communities and Reduce Colonization by Staphylococcus aureus Competitors.” The skin, much like the gut, is colonized by a diverse multitude of microorganisms which generally coexist as a stable ecosystem -- many of which are harmless or even beneficial to the host. However, when that ecosystem is disturbed or destabilized, colonization and/or infection by more dangerous microbes can occur. Antiseptics, such as ethanol or iodine, are commonly used to disinfect the skin prior to surgical procedures or following exposure to contaminated surfaces or objects. Topical antibiotics may be used to decolonize skin of specific types of bacteria or for rashes, wounds, or other common conditions. In the gut, research shows medication that alters microbial communities can lead to complications like Clostridium difficile, or C. diff -- which causes diarrhea and is the most common hospital-acquired infection.
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