Giving critically ill hospital patients a daily bath with a mild, soapy solution of the same antibacterial agent used by surgeons to scrub in before an operation can dramatically cut down, by as much as 73 percent, the number of patients who develop potentially deadly bloodstream infections, according to a new study by patient safety experts at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and five other institutions.
Bloodstream infections, they say, strike as many as one in five patients in hospital intensive care units and up their chances of dying by as much 25 percent. Even when they are not fatal, such infections have been reported to lengthen hospital stays by an average of a full week and add as much as $40,000 in costs.
The new study, described this summer in the June issue of the journal Critical Care Medicine, tracked daily neck-to-toe sponge baths with a mild, 4 percent solution of chlorhexidine glutonate, given to 2,650 ICU patients at six different U.S. hospitals. Chlorhexidine glutonate is the same antibacterial agent used by surgeons while scrubbing in for an operation and by dentists as a potent mouthwash to guard against gum disease. Weekly swab testing found 32 percent fewer patients colonized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and 50 percent fewer cases of vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), when compared to a similar number of ICU patients (2,670) at the same hospitals who were washed with just plain soap and water. MRSA and VRE are the two most common so-called hospital superbugs.
“Doing everything possible to ward of 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, MD, director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at Johns Hopkins.