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Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 1990 Mar;11(3):139-43.

Alcohol for surgical scrubbing?

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  • 1Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore, MD 21205.


To test the effects of four surgical scrub products on colonizing hand flora, 60 healthy adult volunteers were assigned by block randomization (12 subjects per group) to use one of the following formulations: 70% ethyl alcohol with 0.5% chlorhexidine gluconate (ALC); a liquid detergent base containing 1% triclosan (TRI); a liquid detergent base containing 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG); a liquid detergent base containing 7.5% povidone-iodine (PI); or a nonantimicrobial liquid soap (control). Using standard protocol, subjects performed a surgical scrub daily for five consecutive days. Hand cultures were obtained at baseline and on test days 1 and 5 immediately after the scrub and following four hours of gloving. After the first and last scrubs, ALC, CHG and PI resulted in significant reductions in colonizing flora when compared to the control. Additionally, by day 5 ALC was associated with an almost 3-log reduction as compared to an approximate 1.5-log reduction for CHG and PI and less than a 1-log reduction of TRI and the control (p = .009). After four hours of gloving on both days 1 and 5, microbial counts on hands of subjects using ALC, TRI and CHG were significantly lower than counts for the control (p less than .001), whereas there was no significant difference in counts between the PI and control groups (p = .41). Skin assessment by study subjects rated products from least to most harsh as follows: control, TRI, CHG, ALC and PI p = .00001). It was concluded that ALC could be an efficacious and acceptable alternative for surgical scrubbing.

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