Antiseptics are agents which either arrest or prevent putrefaction or decomposition. The word is derived from two Greek words - anti, against, and sejyene, to rot. Decomposition, in the sense here understood, is due to the presence of minute organisms, and true antiseptics, being inimical to their existence and multiplication, render its occurrence impossible.
By the employment of these agents in one or another of their various forms, surgery, both in its application to man and the lower animals, has been revolutionized. Not only by their use have operations which formerly resulted in great mortality been stripped of their danger and rendered safe, but others of a more formidable and important character have been rendered possible and in a large measure successful. So much so, that there is at the present time hardly an organ in the body to which the surgeon's knife has not safe access, and whose disease it does not challenge.
In the use of antiseptics for surgical purposes, they are not only freely applied to wounds, but also to the instruments to be used in operating and the hands which use them, and may be also to the air of the apartment in which operations are carried out.
Surgeons distinguish between agents which merely prevent the development of pathogenic organisms and those which actually destroy them.
One of the most valuable antiseptics is carbolic acid.