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Chlorhexidine Cuts Risk of Surgical Infections

The chemical antiseptic chlorhexidine does a better job than povidone-iodine in reducing the risk of surgical site infections, even in carriers of Staphylococcus aureus, according to two new randomized studies.

Researchers in the U.S. found that chlorhexidine and alcohol, used for preoperative skin cleansing, reduced infections by 41% compared with povidone-iodine.

And Dutch investigators found that screening and decolonizing patients who are nasal carriers of S. aureus, combined with washing with chlorhexidine soap, reduced the risk of infection by 58%.

The two prospective studies are reported in the Jan. 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and offer "valuable insights for controlling surgical-site infections," according to Richard Wenzel, MD, of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Va.

In an accompanying editorial, Wenzel wrote that the findings "offer remarkably safer strategies for all patients who require surgery."

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