The Evolution & Medicine Review

Hygiene may attenuate selection for antibiotic resistance by changing microbial community structure 

Magnus AspenbergSara Maad SasaneFredrik NilssonSam P BrownKristofer Wollein Waldetoft

Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2023, Pages 1–7,


Good hygiene, in both health care and the community, is central to containing the rise of antibiotic resistance, as well as to infection control more generally. But despite the well-known importance, the ecological mechanisms by which hygiene (or other transmission control measures) affect the evolution of resistance remain to be elucidated. Using metacommunity ecology theory, we here propose that hygiene attenuates the effect of antibiotic selection pressure. Specifically, we predict that hygiene limits the scope for antibiotics to induce competitive release of resistant bacteria within treated hosts, and that this is due to an effect of hygiene on the distribution of resistant and sensitive strains in the host population. We show this in a mathematical model of bacterial metacommunity dynamics, and test the results against data on antibiotic resistance, antibiotic treatment, and the use of alcohol-based hand rub in long-term care facilities. The data are consistent with hand rub use attenuating the resistance promoting effect of antibiotic treatment. Our results underscore the importance of hygiene, and point to a concrete way to weaken the link between antibiotic use and increasing resistance.