Different kinds of red algae are enriched with chemically diverse carbohydrates. In particular, a group of sulfated polysaccharides, which were isolated from the cell walls of red algae, gained a large amount of attention due to their broad-spectrum antimicrobial activities. Within that group, carrageenans (CGs) were expected to be the first clinically applicable microbicides that could prevent various viral infections due to their superior antiviral potency and desirable safety profiles in subclinical studies. However, their anticipated beneficial effects could not be validated in human studies. To assess the value of a second attempt at pharmacologically developing CGs as a new class of preventive microbicides, all preclinical and clinical development processes of CG-based microbicides need to be thoroughly re-evaluated. In this review, the in vitro toxicities; in vivo safety profiles; and in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo antiviral activities of CGs are summarized according to the study volume of their target viruses, which include human immunodeficiency virus, herpesviruses, respiratory viruses, human papillomavirus, dengue virus, and other viruses along with a description of their antiviral modes of action and development of antiviral resistance. This evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of CGs will help provide future research directions that may lead to the successful development of CG-based antimicrobial prophylactics.
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