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Chlorhexidine Bathing Does Not Reduce Nosocomial Infections


Clinical question: For critically ill patients, does daily bathing with chlorhexidine reduce health care–associated infections?

Bottom line

These results show that daily chlorhexidine bathing does not significantly affect the incidence of health care–associated infections. These data conflict with data from prior research, suggesting that more investigation is needed before incorporating chlorhexidine bathing into routine practice, especially given the increased cost with its use and the possibility of the development of chlorhexidine resistance. (LOE = 1b)

Reference: Noto MJ, Domenico HJ, Byrne DW, et al. Chlorhexidine bathing and health care-associated infections. JAMA 2015;313(4):369-378.

Study design: Cross-over trial (randomized)

Funding source: Government

Allocation: Concealed

Setting: Inpatient (ICU only)


Previous studies have shown benefit of daily chlorhexidine bathing in patients at high risk of nosocomial blood stream infections (Daily POEM 7-31-2013; Daily POEM 4-26-2013). In this study, investigators randomized 5 intensive care units at a tertiary care hospital to provide daily bathing of all patients with either 2% chlorhexidine-impregnated cloths or with nonantimicrobial cloths. Each unit followed the assigned protocol for 10 weeks, followed by a 2-week washout period, and then crossed over to the alternate protocol for another 10 weeks. All units crossed over 3 times during the study. Almost 10,000 patients were included in the study. The primary outcome was a composite of health-care associated infections, including central-line associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and Clostridium difficile infections. There was no significant difference detected in the rate of the primary outcome between the chlorhexidine group and the control group with approximately 3 infections per 1000 patient-days in both groups. Adjusting for factors including demographics, co-morbidities, and the unit of admission also did not reveal a difference.

Dr. Kulkarni is an assistant professor of hospital medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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