Prior to Lister's pioneering work with antiseptics, around four out of every ten patients undergoing an amputation failed to survive the experience, such was the prevalence of infections associated with operative procedures, and yet, just 40 years later, this figure had fallen to just three in a hundred. This is a dramatic demonstration of the fact that in some situations it is necessary for us to destroy, or at least limit, microbial growth, because of the undesirable consequences of the presence of microorganisms, or their products.
Control of microorganisms can be achieved by a variety of chemical and physical methods. Sterilisation is generally achieved by using physical means such as heat, radiation and filtration. Agents which destroy bacteria are said to be bactericidal. Chemical methods, whilst effective at disinfection, are generally not reliable for achieving total sterility. Agents which inhibit the growth and reproduction of bacteria without bringing about their total destruction are described as bacteriostatic.
An antiseptic is a chemical agent of disinfection that is mild enough to be used on human skin or tissues.
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