Chlorhexidine glutonate solution reduces hospital-acquired bloodstream infections

Two of the most common “superbugs” which cause bloodstream infections are Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE).These bacteria can infect as many as one in five patients in hospital intensive care units andincrease the chances of dying by as much 25 percent. Even when they are not fatal, such infections can lengthen hospital stays by an average of seven days and add as much as $40,000 in costs.

According to a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and five other hospitals, giving critically ill hospital patients a daily bath with a mild, four percent solution of chlorhexidine glutonate can dramatically cut down, by as much as 73 percent, the number of patients who develop potentially deadly bloodstream infections. Results from the study, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be released in the June issue of the journal Critical Care Medicine.

The study tracked 2,650 ICU patients given daily neck-to-toe sponge baths at six different hospitals. Patients were bathed with a mild, four percent solution of chlorhexidine glutonate. Chlorhexidine glutonate is the same antibacterial agent used by surgeons while scrubbing before an operation. Weekly testing found 32 percent fewer patients acquired MRSA and 50 percent fewer acquired VRE, when compared to a similar number of ICU patients at the same hospitals who were washed with just plain soap and water.

“Doing everything possible to ward off bloodstream infections and halt the spread of these dangerous bacteria is essential to safeguarding our patients’ well-being, encouraging their speedy recovery and sparing valuable hospital resources,” says study co-investigator Trish Perl, M.D., director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at Johns Hopkins.

“Because these bacteria have built up resistance to many of the most common antibiotic drugs used to kill them, our goal is to stop them from infecting patients or from spreading from patient to patient, as we are left with few options for treatment after they colonize and then infect a patient,” says Perl, who points out that the chemical’s antibacterial effects can last from six to 48 hours, depending on the strength of the solution.

Chlorhexidine glutonate is a simple, effective way to protect the health of hospital patients and ward off against hospital “superbugs” like MRSA, VRE, C. difficile, and other opportunistic pathogens. Hand-washing, a clean environment, appropriate infection barriers and early identification of patients at high risk for contamination remain the essential measures to prevent and control infection.

(Chris J. Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)