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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Sep 12;(9):CD004985. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004985.pub4.

Preoperative bathing or showering with skin antiseptics to prevent surgical site infection.

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Centre for Clinical Nursing, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia.



Surgical site infections (SSIs) are wound infections that occur after invasive (surgical) procedures. Preoperative bathing or showering with an antiseptic skin wash product is a well-accepted procedure for reducing skin bacteria (microflora). It is less clear whether reducing skin microflora leads to a lower incidence of surgical site infection.


To review the evidence for preoperative bathing or showering with antiseptics for preventing hospital-acquired (nosocomial) surgical site infections.


For this fourth update we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (searched 29 June 2012); the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2012 Issue 6); Ovid MEDLINE (2010 to June Week 3 2012), Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations June 27, 2012); Ovid EMBASE (2010 to 2012 Week 25), EBSCO CINAHL (1882 to 21 June 2012) and reference lists of articles.


Randomised controlled trials comparing any antiseptic preparation used for preoperative full-body bathing or showering with non-antiseptic preparations in people undergoing surgery.


Two review authors independently assessed studies for selection, risk of bias and extracted data. Study authors were contacted for additional information.


We did not identify any new trials for inclusion in this fourth update. Seven trials involving a total of 10,157 participants were included. Four of the included trials had three comparison groups. The antiseptic used in all trials was 4% chlorhexidine gluconate (Hibiscrub/Riohex). Three trials involving 7791 participants compared chlorhexidine with a placebo. Bathing with chlorhexidine compared with placebo did not result in a statistically significant reduction in SSIs; the relative risk of SSI (RR) was 0.91 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.80 to 1.04). When only trials of high quality were included in this comparison, the RR of SSI was 0.95 (95%CI 0.82 to 1.10). Three trials of 1443 participants compared bar soap with chlorhexidine; when combined there was no difference in the risk of SSIs (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.57 to 1.84). Three trials of 1192 patients compared bathing with chlorhexidine with no washing, one large study found a statistically significant difference in favour of bathing with chlorhexidine (RR 0.36, 95%CI 0.17 to 0.79). The smaller studies found no difference between patients who washed with chlorhexidine and those who did not wash preoperatively.


This review provides no clear evidence of benefit for preoperative showering or bathing with chlorhexidine over other wash products, to reduce surgical site infection. Efforts to reduce the incidence of nosocomial surgical site infection should focus on interventions where effect has been demonstrated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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