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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against. For example, antibiotics are used against bacteria and antifungals are used against fungi. They can also be classified according to their function. Agents that kill microbes are called microbicidal, while those that merely inhibit their growth are called biostatic. The use of antimicrobial medicines to treat infection is known as antimicrobial chemotherapy, while the use of antimicrobial medicines to prevent infection is known as antimicrobial prophylaxis.

The main classes of antimicrobial agents are disinfectants ("nonselective antimicrobials" such as bleach), which kill a wide range of microbes on non-living surfaces to prevent the spread of illness, antiseptics (which are applied to living tissue and help reduce infection during surgery), and antibiotics (which destroy microorganisms within the body). The term "antibiotic" originally described only those formulations derived from living organisms but is now also applied to synthetic antimicrobials, such as the sulphonamides, or fluoroquinolones. The term also used to be restricted to antibacterials (and is often used as a synonym for them by medical professionals and in medical literature), but its context has broadened to include all antimicrobials. Antibacterial agents can be further subdivided into bactericidal agents, which kill bacteria, and bacteriostatic agents, which slow down or stall bacterial growth. In response, further advancements in antimicrobial technologies have resulted in solutions that can go beyond simply inhibiting microbial growth. Instead, certain types of porous media have been developed to kill microbes on contact.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Antimicrobial" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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