A better bath

Toes sticking up in a bathtub

Soap and water have always been essential elements to bathing. But in the ICUs at Emory University Hospital, the traditional approach has been replaced by something better—chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG), an antimicrobial.

Emory clinical nurse specialists Carolyn Holder and Mary Zellinger set out to see if they could decrease hospital-associated bloodstream infections in ICU patients by using CHG. Along with teams in the Emory Hospital cardiovascular and medical ICUs, they trained staff to use warm CHG cloths for patient baths and identified skin-care products that were compatible with CHG. Six months after their intervention was implemented, bloodstream infections were down by 50%. The research team next hopes to expand the CHG daily baths to general units at the hospital. 

Emory researchers also have shown that using CHG to cleanse a patient’s skin prior to surgery instead of the more commonly used povidone iodine also reduces surgical infections by 41%. (Of 1.7 million health care-associated infections each year in U.S. hospitals, 400,000 involve infections at surgical sites.) The findings by Emory surgeon Alexandra Webb and research teams at six university-affiliated hospitals, were published in the Jan. 7, 2010, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. 

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