Dr. David Warren, medical director for infection prevention at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis School and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said patients in the ICU have a high risk of infections because potentially harmful bacteria on the skin can enter tubes that deliver medicine into the body or that help patients breathe.
"It's been standard practice to bathe ICU patients daily," Warren said in a statement. "Switching from soap and water to wipes soaked in the antiseptic chlorhexidine is easy to do and is cost effective, especially given the significant health benefit to patients."
Warren and colleagues evaluated the use of antiseptic wipes on nearly 7,000 patients in intensive care or bone marrow transplantation units in six hospitals.
For the study, ICUs or bone marrow transplant units were randomly selected to wash all patients with the chlorhexidine wipes or soap and water for six months. Each unit then switched to the other method of bathing patients for the next six months, Warren said.
Patients were monitored for bloodstream infections and the presence of two types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the skin, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found among patients treated with soap and water, there were 165 new cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the skin, compared to 127 cases for patients washed with chlorhexidine -- a 23 percent reduction.
Bathing with the chlorhexidine wipes also significantly reduced the rate of bloodstream infections by 28 percent, a benefit that was most pronounced among patients who stayed in the ICU for more than seven days, Warren added.