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Pediatrics. 2003 Oct;112(4):e275.

Umbilical cord care in premature infants: the effect of two different cord-care regimens (salicylic sugar powder vs chlorhexidine) on cord separation time and other outcomes.

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  • 1Department of Critical Care Medicine, Section of Neonatology, University of Firenze School of Medicine, Firenze, Italy.



To evaluate the effect of 2 cord-care regimens (salicylic sugar powder vs chlorhexidine as a 4% detergent water solution) on cord separation time and other outcomes in preterm infants.


A prospective, randomized, controlled trial was conducted on 244 preterm newborns with a gestational age of <34 weeks and a birth weight of <2500 g. All preterm newborns were enrolled, regardless of their health condition. We excluded from the study infants whose conditions during the first hours of life required the catheterization of umbilical vessels. We also excluded from the general statistical analysis all newborns who had their programmed cord-care regimen changed because of the presence or the suspicion of omphalitis. On arrival at our neonatal intensive care unit or neonatal special care unit, infants were bathed thoroughly with a soap solution (Saugella, Guieu, Italy), and the umbilical cord (UC) was treated with 1 of the 2 antiseptic products chosen for the study. The stump was then folded and covered with common sterile, dry gauze and kept in place by an elastic net. Until cord detachment and at every diaper change, the cord stump was cleaned with sterile water and treated with the same product initially used for first-time cord care. On the third day of life, we obtained an umbilical swab either from the base of the cord or from the umbilicus if the cord was already sloughed. Six weeks after birth, during hospitalization or during a follow-up visit if already discharged, all infants had a medical examination to check the umbilicus area. Cord separation time, changing of the programmed cord-care regimen, death, omphalitis, sepsis, cord bleeding, nurses' opinion on treatments efficacy, and UC colonization were measured.


The cord separation time was significantly lower in infants who were treated with salicylic sugar powder (6 +/- 2 days) than in infants who were treated with chlorhexidine (9 +/- 2 days). The programmed cord-care regimen was changed in a significantly higher number of newborns in the chlorhexidine group (17) than in the salicylic sugar group (3). None of the newborns died, and we found only sporadic cases of sepsis (1 patient in each group) and omphalitis (1 patient in the chlorhexidine group). A significantly higher percentage of nurses were satisfied with the salicylic sugar powder treatment (98%) than with the chlorhexidine treatment (67%), notwithstanding a more frequent occurrence of slight cord scar bleeding in the salicylic sugar group (7.8%) than in the chlorhexidine group (4%). The rate of negative umbilical swabs was significantly higher in infants treated with salicylic sugar powder (73.1%) than with chlorhexidine (53%).


In neonatal intensive care units and neonatal special care units of developed countries, salicylic sugar powder can be used effectively and safely for UC care of preterm infants.

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