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Background: Hospital-acquired infection is a frequent adverse event in patient care; it can lead to longer stays in the intensive care unit (ICU), additional medical complications, permanent disability or death. Whilst all hospital-based patients are susceptible to infections, prevalence is particularly high in the ICU, where people who are critically ill have suppressed immunity and are subject to increased invasive monitoring. People who are mechanically-ventilated are at infection risk due to tracheostomy and reintubation and use of multiple central venous catheters, where lines and tubes may act as vectors for the transmission of bacteria and may increase bloodstream infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). Chlorhexidine is a low-cost product, widely used as a disinfectant and antiseptic, which may be used to bathe people who are critically ill with the aim of killing bacteria and reducing the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Objectives: To assess the effects of chlorhexidine bathing on the number of hospital-acquired infections in people who are critically ill. Search methods: In December 2018 we searched the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid Embase and EBSCO CINAHL Plus. We also searched clinical trial registries for ongoing and unpublished studies, and checked reference lists of relevant included studies as well as reviews, meta-analyses and health technology reports to identify additional studies. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared chlorhexidine bathing with soap-and-water bathing of patients in the ICU. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed study eligibility, extracted data and undertook risk of bias and GRADE assessment of the certainty of the evidence. Main results: We included eight studies in this review. Four RCTs included a total of 1537 individually randomised participants, and four cluster-randomised cross-over studies included 23 randomised ICUs with 22,935 participants. We identified one study awaiting classification, for which we were unable to assess eligibility. The studies compared bathing using 2% chlorhexidine-impregnated washcloths or dilute solutions of 4% chlorhexidine versus soap-and-water bathing or bathing with non-antimicrobial washcloths. Eight studies reported data for participants who had a hospital-acquired infection during the ICU stay. We are uncertain whether using chlorhexidine for bathing of critically ill people reduces the rate of hospital-acquired infection, because the certainty of the evidence is very low (rate difference 1.70, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.12 to 3.29; 21,924 participants). Six studies reported mortality (in hospital, in the ICU, and at 48 hours). We cannot be sure whether using chlorhexidine for bathing of critically-ill people reduces mortality, because the certainty of the evidence is very low (odds ratio 0.87, 95% CI 0.76 to 0.99; 15,798 participants). Six studies reported length of stay in the ICU. We noted that individual studies found no evidence of a difference in length of stay; we did not conduct meta-analysis because data were skewed. It is not clear whether using chlorhexidine for bathing of critically ill people reduced length of stay in the ICU, because the certainty of the evidence is very low. Seven studies reported skin reactions as an adverse event, and five of these reported skin reactions which were thought to be attributable to the bathing solution. Data in these studies were reported inconsistently and we were unable to conduct meta-analysis; we cannot tell whether using chlorhexidine for bathing of critically ill people reduced adverse events, because the certainty of the evidence is very low. We used the GRADE approach to downgrade the certainty of the evidence of each outcome to very low. For all outcomes, we downgraded evidence because of study limitations (most studies had a high risk of performance bias, and we noted high risks of other bias in some studies). We downgraded evidence due to indirectness, because some participants in studies may have had hospital-acquired infections before recruitment. We noted that one small study had a large influence on the effect for hospital-acquired infections, and we assessed decisions made in analysis of some cluster-randomised cross-over studies on the effect for hospital-acquired infections and for mortality; we downgraded the evidence for these outcomes due to inconsistency. We also downgraded the evidence on length of stay in the ICU, because of imprecision. Data for adverse events were limited by few events and so we downgraded for imprecision. Authors' conclusions: Due to the very low-certainty evidence available, it is not clear whether bathing with chlorhexidine reduces hospital-acquired infections, mortality, or length of stay in the ICU, or whether the use of chlorhexidine results in more skin reactions.
Lewis, S. R., Schofield-Robinson, O. J., Rhodes, S., & Smith, A. F. (2019, August 30). Chlorhexidine bathing of the critically ill for the prevention of hospital-acquired infection. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD012248.pub2