FRIDAY, Oct. 19 (HealthDay News) -- The use of antibacterial soap and ointment on all intensive care patients led to a significant reduction in bloodstream infections, a new study shows.
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The findings suggest that a major change in health care practice could help save lives, according to the researchers.
The study of nearly 75,000 patients in 43 hospitals in 16 states looked at different ways to control methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. These preventable infections can cause serious complications for patients, leading to prolonged hospital stays and increased risk of death.
Of the strategies tested, the most effective one was the simplest and most straightforward.
Instead of screening intensive care patients for MRSA and then focusing on those identified as carriers of MRSA, all ICU patients were bathed daily with antiseptic soap during their ICU stay and received antibiotic ointment in their nose for five days.
As a result, the number of patients harboring MRSA -- not sick because of it, but at risk for becoming ill later and for spreading the bacteria to others -- fell by more than a third. The number of bloodstream infections caused by MRSA and other bacteria fell by 44 percent.
"This trial provides strong evidence that removing bacteria from the skin and nose is highly effective at preventing serious infection in high-risk ICU patients," lead researcher Dr. Susan Huang, medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention at University of California, Irvine Healthcare, said in a news release from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
"A 44 percent reduction in infection is very promising for improving medical care and protecting highly vulnerable patients. It suggests that treating all ICU patients with this strategy is beneficial. This approach may make screening for drug-resistant organisms unnecessary," Huang said.
The study was scheduled for presentation Wednesday at a joint annual meeting in San Diego of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medicine Association and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
The results only apply to ICU patients, and Huang noted that routinely using antimicrobial soap and ointment in low-risk patient groups might increase resistance to these products without significant benefit.
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
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SOURCE: Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, news release, Oct. 17, 2012