Feb 2, 2024 - Health

Study points to an easy way to reduce hospital infections

Illustration of small red crosses forming a larger one.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A simple switch in disinfectants used on patients' skin before surgery can prevent thousands of in-hospital infections each year, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests.

Why it matters: Hospital-acquired infections kill tens of thousands annually, sicken many more and cost billions — and they're often preventable through measures like disinfecting surgical sites.

Details: There isn't a consensus on which disinfectant for preventing surgical site infections is best, said researchers at McMaster University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

  • In a study that randomly assigned 25 trauma centers in the U.S. and Canada to one of two commonly used disinfectants in surgeries for fractures, there was a clear winner.
  • In patients with broken bones that didn't pierce the skin, 2.4% of surgeries resulted in a surgical site infection with a solution of iodine povacrylex. The infection rate was 3.3% for surgeries with a solution of chlorhexidine gluconate.
  • But for patients with open fractures, the infection risk was similar with both disinfectants.

The bottom line: Though the trial only included patients undergoing operations for broken bones, the researchers said the findings might apply to other surgeries.

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