A hygienic solution

By • Published: November 18th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A nice, warm bath has a calming effect.

But for extremely sick hospital patients, a daily bath may be a literal lifesaver… especially if the water contains a mild mix of the same soapy solution surgeons use to “scrub in” before an operation.

Researchers with the The Johns Hopkins Hospital and five other institutions studied the effects of a daily neck-to-toe sponge baths on more than two-thousand patients in intensive care units.

They used a four-percent solution of chlorhexidine glutonate [klor-hek′-sidēn glue-ten-ate], the same thing doctors wash with before surgical procedures. It is also prescribed as a mouthwash to fight gum disease.

Doctors wanted to discover whether the baths would help to remove harmful bacteria that could infect the intensive care patients, who often have weakened immune systems or are connected to medical devices that create openings for bacteria to enter the body.

This is especially important with antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” such as MRSA [MER-SA] prowling around. Nailing the pesky microbes with soap before they can wage war with the body only makes sense.

The hygiene routine worked.

When doctors swab-tested patients’ skin, they found fewer patients were colonized with MRSA and a resistant bug known as V-R-E, compared with patients who were washed with soap and water alone.

In addition, the number of patients who developed dangerous bloodstream infections plummeted by more than seventy percent. That’s great news, considering a bloodstream infection can increase an intensive care patient’s chance of dying by twenty-five percent.

Beyond that, researchers say the simple routine is cheap and saves money by cutting the costs associated with longer hospitals stays.

Call it the four percent solution.