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The Difference between Antimicrobial and Antibacterial Products

antibacterial copper

The terms “antibacterial” and “antimicrobial” are often used interchangeably and the two share some overlap, but that is where the similarities end. The confusion is understandable, of course. Antibacterial products kill bacteria—which is microscopic—therefore antibacterial should mean the same as antimicrobial, right? Unfortunately, that’s not how the differences actually play out.

Illnesses that come from pathogens fall under certain categories: bacterial, viral, or fungal. All of these are microbial, but only one of them is affected by antibiotics. Despite this, it can be easy to assume that proper protection can be acquired by antibacterial products alone, especially in a healthcare setting. After all, many of the common names in healthcare-acquired infections either belong to bacteria or are commonly caused by them: MRSA, strep, pneumonia, meningitis, E. coli, etc. However, antibacterial and antimicrobial products vary on many fundamental levels that can result in drastic differences in outcome.

Pathogen Targeting

Antibacterial and antimicrobial products are created with different goals in mind. Most antibacterial products are more likely to be things like soaps or facial washes and are intended to target and kill common mild to moderate strains of bacteria that can live on the skin. Although useful, antibacterial products often do not do anything to inhibit future growth and must be reapplied regularly.

In contrast, antimicrobials products are often designed with an eye towards dealing with both surface-level bacteria and those that can thrive within the body itself. Additionally, a key part of antimicrobials is their ability to offer protection on an ongoing basis. While nothing lasts forever, it is true that antimicrobial products do not require nearly as frequent reapplication as antibacterial products do.

Broader Spectrum

As mentioned above, antibacterial products only work on bacteria. Antimicrobials are able to address a wider range of potential pathogens and inhibit or kill viruses or fungi that they come into contact with. While this feature is not as important to the average person, it becomes highly crucial in a healthcare setting. Many viruses and fungi are opportunistic and pose a heightened threat to anyone with a weakened or otherwise occupied immune system. Since this can describe a large portion of hospital patients, it is crucial that viruses and fungi are accounted for in sanitization procedures.

The Role of Antimicrobial Surfaces

One of the key methods of combating healthcare infections is the use of antimicrobial surfaces. As the name implies, these are surfaces that are designed to resist, inhibit, and/or kill pathogens that come into contact with them. Proper use of these products on counters, doorknobs, bed railings, instruments, and other touch surfaces that can harbour pathogens drastically cut down on risk to patients and staff alike.

Aereus Technologies is a Canadian biotech company headquartered in Burlington, Ontario. Their research and development into copper alloy-based technology has resulted in the antimicrobial coating, Aereus Shield™. Contact us at 888-633-8460 to learn more about antimicrobial surfaces and how Aereus Shield™ can help enhance healthcare safety.

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Michelle Berelowitz

Michelle Berelowitz has 15+ years commercializing technology start-ups in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor with strong strategic, operational and management skills within both publicly traded and technology based start-up companies. Michelle has a background in manufacturing, ICT and biotech combined with degrees in political science, finance &strategic management and Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo.