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A chemical substance which has ability to alter the normal body functions of a living organism after injection is called as drug. In medicinal chemistry, a drug can be used for the treatment of diseases caused by microorganism like bacteria, virus, fungi etc. 

Generally drugs inhibit the synthesis of cell wall, or cell membrane proteins to prevent the growth of these microorganism or they can be interfere with the processing of nucleic acids of these microorganism to control them. Drugs are complex molecules containing carbon, hydrogen with some heteroatom like oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur.

On the basis of their action of different microorganism and mode of action, drugs can be various types. 
Some common classes of drugs are as follows.
  1. Antipyretics: These drugs used to reduce fever.
  2. Analgesics: They are painkiller which used to reduce pain
  3. Antimalarial drugs: these drugs use to treat malaria
  4. Antibiotics: They inhibited the germ growth which caused disease
  5. Antiseptics: They used to prevention of germ growth near burns, cuts and wounds


Antiseptics Definition

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"A drug which used to destroy diseases carrying microorganism by local application on skin, mucosa or cavities is called as antiseptic."

Thus, they do not impart any effect on body tissues as they applied only on infected surface. They can be used for viral, bacterial infection as well as for protozoal agents. The active chemical ingredients of antibiotics can applied directly to the affected area for either killing microorganisms or for inhibiting their growth. The use of antiseptic for sterilization in surgery was first given by Joseph Lister in 1867. He used carbolic acid (Phenol) for that purpose. Later many antiseptics like alcohol, chlorine, iodine are used for different purpose to make surface bacteria free. Because of the ability to inhibit the growth of microorganism, antiseptics are widely used in hospital and other health care centers for hard surface applications. 

Generally antiseptics have broad spectrum antimicrobial activity i.e. they are active on various microorganisms. Like antibiotics, antiseptics are not much specific in their interaction with microorganisms like bacteria. Some antiseptics like Chlorhexidine (CHX) have limited specificity and active on both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. This antiseptic involves in the inhibition of cell attachment and limits the growth. This antiseptic has much less potent compare to antibiotics like doxycycline or minocycline. Thus antibiotics and antiseptics are quite differing in their potency and the specificity of their interactions with microbes. 

Mode of action of antiseptics

Antiseptic like Chlorhexidine (CHX) contains a positively charged hydrophobic and lipophilic molecule which can combine with the molecules of phospholipids and lipo-polysaccharides on the cell membrane of microorganism.

Due to this interaction, CHX enters in the cell through active or passive transport mechanism. This interaction affects the osmotic equilibrium of cell, hence increase the permeability of membrane which further allowing the reactant molecule in cell and cause damage of cell. The presence of antiseptic inside the microbe cell directly affects the intracellular constituents like nucleic acid and collapse the bacterial cell. This antiseptic shows its activity in acidic medium at pH 5.5 - 0.7.
Mechanism of CHX

Some common antiseptics with their brand name and uses are as follow.

Stock lists (examples) Example of brand Intended usage
70% Methyl alcohol spray IMS spray Hard surface disinfection
70% Isopropyl alcohol wipes Azowipes or Cliniwipes Hard surface disinfection
70% Isopropyl alcohol swabs Sterets or Mediswab Skin disinfection pre-cannulation
Chlorehexidine 0.5% in 70% alcohol Acoholic chlorhexidine Skin disinfection
Chlorhexidine gluconate liquid 4% Hibiscrub surgical scrub
Chlorhexidine gluconate 0.015% / Cetrimide 0.15% solution Savlodil or Tisept sachets Skin disinfection (urinary catheterisation)
Alcoholic povidone iodine 10% Betadine alcoholic solution Pre-op skin preparation
Aqueous povidone iodine 10% Betadine antiseptic solution Mucous membranes (not skin prep)
Povidone iodine 7.5% solution Betadine surgical scrub
Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate solution Examples
tablets 4.75 g (= 2.5 g available chlorine) HAZ-TABS tablets Spillages of body Fluids
Hycolin 2% solution not available at all sites Environmental decontamination (hard surface)
Aquasept Occupational Health

Examples of Antiseptics

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There are many synthetic and natural antiseptics are available for different microorganism and with various applications.
Natural antiseptics have a wide range of applications and negligible side effects.

Some common natural antiseptics with their applications are as follows:
  • Lemon: The presence of citrus juice in lemon make it a good antiseptic which effect on immune function system, circulatory system and digestive systems. Because of its antibacterial nature, it can use to sterilize the air by using few of its drops in a spray bottle.
  • Honey: it is a natural antiseptic which used to prevent the infection of wounds due to presence of antibacterial agents which kill the bacteria present in and around the wound. It can also be used for treating ulcers and burns, diarrhea and any vomiting and stomach upsets.
  • Pineapple: This fruit is rich in vitamin- A, C, and B, with manganese, which involve in metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. Bromelain enzyme present in pineapple is used for digesting proteins and enhances medical antibiotics due to its antibacterial properties. Because of antiseptic and astringent nature of pineapple, it can used treatment of pneumonia and infection caused by worms. It is also effective in the treatment of kidney infections and kidney stones.
  • Tea Tree Oil: it used for skin disinfectant like acne, athlete's foot and wound healing.
  • Lavender: It is a natural antiseptic and astringent which helps with minor skin problems.
  • Eucalyptus: It has antiviral and antibacterial properties, thus used for the treatment of flu, throat infections, sinusitis and headaches. Compare to natural antiseptic, synthetic antiseptics are in much more uses due to their reactivity towards bacteria.
Some common examples of synthetic antiseptics are as follow.
  1. Alcohols: Some alcohols like ethanol, propanol (1-propanol, 2-propanol) and mixtures of alcohols act as good antiseptics. These alcoholic solutions commonly known as surgical alcohol and used for disinfection of skin before injection along with other antiseptics like tincture of iodine, chlorhexidine etc.
  2. Quaternary ammonium compounds: These compounds can act as antibiotic as well as antiseptics also. For example; Benzethonium chloride. These compounds are commonly abbreviated as "Quats," and used to sterilize the skin before surgery as well as for irrigation or as a preservative in eye drops.
  3. Boric acid: It's a white crystalline solid, chemically known as orthoboric acid (H3BO3).
    It is mainly used as suppository in the treatment of yeast infections in vagina, in eyewashes.
  4. Brilliant Green: It is a triarylmethane dye used as 1% ethanol solution for treatment of small wounds and abscesses.
  5. Chlorhexidine Gluconate: It is a biguanidine derivative of chlorhexidine whose alcoholic solution is widely used for skin treatment and for gingivitis.
  6. Hydrogen peroxide: The 20 volume solution of hydrogen peroxide acts as good antiseptic due to its oxidising nature and used to clean wounds and ulcers. It also present in many households first aid used to cleanse wounds, disinfect skin, as a gargle or mouthwash.
  7. Iodine: The alcoholic solution of iodine is known as tincture of iodine is a good antiseptic used to gentle washing of minor wounds.
  8. Octenidine dihydrochloride: It is a bis-(dihydropyridinyl)-decane derivative and a cationic surfactant which show similar in their action to the Quaternary ammonium compounds, but with broader spectrum of activity.
  9. Phenolic compounds: Phenol and other phenolic compounds are very common antiseptics used as an antiseptic baby powder, used in mouthwashes and throat lozenges.
  10. Other antiseptics: some other antiseptics are polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB), Sodium chloride, Sodium hypochlorite, Calcium hypochlorite, Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) and, Terpenes.
Some antiseptics with their applications and structure are listed below.

Antiseptics Application Structure
Chloramine (Chloramine-T) A group of compound which contains chlorine and nitrogen and used to treat wounds. e.g. Chloramine-T Chloramine
Chlorhexidine (CHX) Along-lasting antiseptic liquid which used as sanitizer by surgeons to before performing surgery. N',N'''''-hexane-1,6-diylbis[N-(4-chlorophenyl)(imidodicarbonimidic diamide)]
Triiodomethane (Idoform) A haloform of iodine with yellowish colour with a penetrating odor; used as an antiseptic Triiodomethan
Merbromine A compound of mercury which used topically as an antiseptic on minor cuts and scrape. marketed with the name of Mercurochrome, Asceptichrome, Cinfacromin Membromine

Mild Silver protein A Black shiny crystals complex antiseptic consisting of a compound of protein and silver(19-25% ),Marketed as argyrol, silvol.
Thimerosal Antiseptic and antifungal agent, used as a preservative in vaccine preparations.Marketed as:thiomersal, thiomersalate

Sodium ethylmercurithiosalicylate A light-colored crystalline antiseptic used in surgey. Marketed as; Merthiolate C9H9HgNaO2S
Iodine (Tincture of iodine) An alcoholic solution of iodine used as an antiseptic on wounds.
Disinfectants are used to kill bacteria. They are used to sterilize instruments, utensils, clothes, floors, sanitary fittings, sputum and excreta. They harm the living tissues and cannot be used on skin. Some examples are phenol, methyl phenol, hydrogen peroxide and sulfur dioxide.


Sometimes the same substance may be used as an antiseptic or disinfectant. When the concentration is less, it is an antiseptic and when the concentration is more, the substance acts as disinfectant. For instance, 0.2% solution of phenol is an antiseptic and 1.0% solution of phenol is a disinfectant.
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