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Improved Antiseptic Curbs Post-Surgical Infections

Fri, 01/08/2010 - 6:08am

Stephanie Nano, AP

It looks like doctors aren't the only ones who should scrub before surgery. Bathing patients with an antiseptic and squirting medicated ointment up their noses dramatically cut the rate of dangerous staph infections afterward, researchers found.

A second study found the antiseptic did a better job of preventing infections than the reddish-brown iodine solution that's been used for decades to swab the skin before an operation. Some 30 million surgical procedures are done each year, and up to a half-million Americans develop surgical-site infections, mostly from staph bacteria.

“A lot of people think it's all from the outside world, but these are your own germs,” said Dr. Robert Weinstein, an infectious disease expert at Cook County's Stroger Hospital in Chicago. Two new studies, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, tried different approaches to killing those bacteria to see if that reduced the number of post-surgery infections.

U.S. researchers tested a newer antiseptic against the iodine solution commonly used to prep surgery patients and found it cut all surgical-site infections by 40 percent. The study's leader, Dr. Rabih Darouiche, of the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, and other experts expect the newer antiseptic to replace iodine.

In the Netherlands, where the newer antiseptic prep is already used, researchers screened patients and treated those who had staph bacteria to see if there was any additional benefit. Treatments with nasal ointment and antiseptic baths reduced staph infections by nearly 60 percent compared to dummy treatments.

“This is the single most effective way of preventing surgical-site infections,” said researcher Dr. Henri Verbrugh of the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. The Dutch researchers and others had tested the staph-killing ointment before with mixed results. They attribute the positive outcome to the development of a rapid screening test, the addition of the antiseptic bath, and continuing the treatment for five days.

New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org

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