Embedded Antimicrobial Protection and Antibiotic Resistance Explained

written by Jackie Kavege, Senior Manager, Global Built-In Marketing at Microban

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

The issue of antibiotic resistance is a significant concern in the healthcare industry around the world.  As defined by the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of antibiotics.  Antibiotics are defined as medicines used to treat bacterial infections in humans and animals. As a focus of significant research and a topic of industry-wide communications globally, the avoidance of antibiotic resistance has been a key factor in setting guidance for the healthcare industry

Antibiotics are one class of antimicrobials. Embedded antimicrobials are also classified under the same grouping, but are in fact very different from antibiotics.  Embedded antimicrobials are added to products at the point of manufacture and become a permanent part of the molecular structure of the products. These built-in technologies utilized for product preservation, odor control and the control of stain causing microorganisms and can offer continuous microbial reduction on a material.  In recent history, there has been confusion about the relationship between antibiotic resistance and embedded antimicrobial product protection.  Although the terms “antibiotic” and “antimicrobial” are often interchanged, there is not a relationship between antibiotic resistance and built-in antimicrobial protection.  

The Embedded Antimicrobial Difference

Embedded antimicrobials are specifically designed to provide the needed protection for a specific end use. For example, a hospital bed rail may utilize an antimicrobial that targets bacteria to reduce inherent bacterial load on the surface of the bed rail, but a grout-based material will target a mold to prevent discoloration of the grout surface. These embedded technologies reduce the bioburden on surfaces without causing concern for resistance development or negative health implications.  

While safe, embedded antimicrobials are not meant for human consumption. Built-in technologies are meant to act within the environment of the article to target multiple cellular components at the same time. In addition, this class of antimicrobials targets multiple organisms and sites on those organisms. This makes it very difficult for the organisms to develop resistance. Academic literature supports that embedded antimicrobials do not cause a concern for microbial resistance development and propagation.  

The body of evidence from multiple regulatory bodies and academic groups indicates that the use of embedded antimicrobials is not linked to development of antibiotic resistance. These two classes of antimicrobials do not directly influence the same groups of microbes or act in similar manners. Embedded antimicrobials target multiple organisms, multiple cellular components, and have a role in the environment. It is for these reasons that embedded antimicrobials do not create resistance patterns that are shared with antibiotic resistance development for patients.  

The Impact of Embedded Antimicrobials in the Healthcare Environment

It is known that the patient environment can harbor pathogens.  Although there is ongoing education related to handwashing in the healthcare environment, full compliance is still a challenge.  Also, even with the promise of continuous disinfection within healthcare, it is not reasonable to expect nurses or environmental services to clean every surface within each hospital room. A systems approach, utilizing all three tactics, is needed to create a cleaner healthcare environment.  Embedded antimicrobials can be incorporated into polymer-based substrates such as bed rails, high touch points such as light switches, powder coated door handles, nurses’ stations and textile-based materials such as bedding and gowns to inhibit bacteria growth on these surfaces.  

For more information on embedded antimicrobials and their benefits in the healthcare environment, contact a member of the Microban team today.

Please feel free to contact me with questions at jackie.kavege@microban.com or click here to connect with me on LinkedIn