CHICAGO — Infections in U.S. hospitals kill tens of thousands of people each year, and many institutions fight back by screening new patients to see if they carry a dangerous germ, and isolating those who do. But a big study suggests a far more effective approach: Decontaminating every patient in intensive care.
Washing everyone with antiseptic wipes and giving them antibiotic nose ointment reduced bloodstream infections dramatically in the study at more than 40 U.S. hospitals.
The practice could prove controversial, because it would involve even uninfected patients and because experts say it could lead to germs becoming more resistant to antibiotics. But it worked better than screening methods, now required in nine states.
The study found that 54 patients would need to be decontaminated to prevent one bloodstream infection.
Nevertheless, the findings are “very dramatic” and will lead to changes in practice and probably new laws, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious-disease specialist who was not involved in the research. Some hospitals are already on board.
The study targeted ICU patients, who tend to be older, sicker, weaker and most likely to be infected with dangerous bacteria, including drug-resistant staph germs.
The decontamination method worked like this: For up to five days, 26,000 ICU patients got a nose swab twice a day with bacteria-fighting ointment, plus once-daily bathing with antiseptic wipes.
Afterward, they were more than 40 percent less likely to get a bloodstream infection of any type than patients who had been screened and isolated for a dangerous germ called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
In the year before the experiment began, there were 950 bloodstream infections in intensive care patients at the hospitals studied. The results suggest that more than 400 of those could have been prevented if all hospitals had used the decontamination method.