An antiseptic bath a day keeps the doctor away
Infection protection—Bathing intensive-care patients daily with inexpensive antiseptic washcloths is a cost-effective way to curb the spread of hospital-acquired infections, according to a study at VA and university hospitals. (Photo: iStock)
A VA-led research team found that infections acquired in the hospital are less likely to occur when acute-care patients are bathed daily with a simple,
inexpensive antiseptic. The study appeared Feb. 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"We found that bathing patients with washcloths soaked with chlorhexidine —a broad-spectrum antiseptic— lowered the rate of hospital-acquired bloodstream
infections by 28 percent," says Edward Wong, MD, chief of infectious disease at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va.
Over 12 months, VA researchers and colleagues analyzed close to 8,000 patients in nine intensive-care and bone-marrow-transplantation units in six VA and
non-VA hospitals. They randomly assigned care providers to bathe patients with either chlorhexidine-soaked washcloths or non-antimicrobial washcloths for
six months. The process was then reversed, with providers switching to the other product for an additional six months.
Wong says that in addition to reducing bloodstream infections, daily antiseptic baths reduced multidrug-resistant organisms such as MRSA
(methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococcus) by 23 percent.
"We also found that the benefits of daily antiseptic baths increased the longer the patients remained on the intensive care units," the researcher adds.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some five percent of hospitalized patients acquire healthcare-associated
infections, often when bacteria enter the bloodstream when surgeons make incisions or insert catheters.
"A daily antiseptic bath is a strategy that's easy to sustain because it doesn't require a big change from patient-bathing practices already in use at our
VA hospitals," observes lead researcher Michael Climo, MD, an epidemiologist at the Richmond VA. "We're looking at a really simple intervention that's easy
to implement and doesn't cost much."
The cost of chlorhexidine wipes is perhaps 20 cents apiece, if not less. The cost of treating a patient who comes down with a hospital-acquired infection
can be about $40,000.
"A daily antiseptic bath is clearly going to improve patient safety," Climo says. "And it's going to cost way less than antibiotics or the cost of treating
Collaborating on the study were researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Washington
University, Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The research was supported by CDC and Sage
Products, which makes the antiseptic washcloths.