Simple hospital procedure beats back the bugs at least a little

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It seems so easy. In fact, it really is. Infections in hospital intensive-care units were cut by nearly a quarter when patients were washed daily with antiseptic wipes, a new study has found.

Patients wiped down with the chlorhexidine-soaked washcloths were 23 percent less likely to become infected with a multidrug-resistant organism, and 28 percent less likely to get any hospital-acquired bloodstream infection, according to Michael Climo, MD, of the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, Va., and colleagues.

For the randomized trial, 7,727 patients in nine units in six hospitals were washed with either the antiseptic wipes or non-antimicrobial washcloths over six months. Each unit then switched to the other method of patient bathing for six months. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

These patients in the ICU are probably the most vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections, so it is impressive to see how a simple change in washing technique can improve their situation, says ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava.

This seems pretty clear-cut, agrees ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. While not a blockbusting benefit, even the small decrease/reduction in serious infections as well as acquisition is worthwhile given the minimal time, expense and lack of adverse effects.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom is in full agreement. He says, Bacteremia (the presence of bacteria in the blood) is very serious with a mortality rate that can reach 25 percent. This can progress to septic shock, for which the mortality rate is about 50 percent. Any procedure that provides even a modest benefit in preventing this is well worth it. There is certainly no downside.