Chlorhexidine and the prevention of surgical site infection

  • C.T. Crosby

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Surgical site infections (SSI) are a prevalent health care-associated infection (HAl). Prior to the mid-19th century, surgical sites commonly developed postoperative wound complications. It was in the 1860's, after Joseph Lister introduced carbolic acid and the principles of antisepsis that postoperative wound infection significantly decreased. Today, patient preoperative skin preparation with an antiseptic agent prior to surgery is a standard of practice. Povidone-iodine and chlorhexidine gluconate are currently the most commonly used antimicrobial agents used to prep the patient's skin. In this current study, the epidemiology, diagnosis, surveillance and prevention of SSI with chlorhexidine were investigated. The antimicrobial activity of chlorhexidine was assessed. In in-vitro and in-vivo studies the antimicrobial efficacy of 2% (w/v) chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) in 70% isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and 10% povidoneiodine (PVP-I) in the presence of 0.9% normal saline or blood were examined. The 2% CHG in 70% IPA solutions antimicrobial activity was not diminished in the presence of 0.9% normal saline or blood. In comparison, the traditional patient preoperative skin preparation, 10% PVP-I antimicrobial activity was not diminished in the presence of 0.9% normal saline, but was diminished in the presence of blood. In an in-vivo human volunteer study the potential for reduction of the antimicrobial efficacy of aqueous patient preoperative skin preparations compromised by mechanical removal of wet product from the application site (blot) was assessed. In this evaluation, 2% CHG and 10% povidone-iodine (PVP-I) were blotted from the patient's skin after application to the test site. The blotting, or mechanical removal, of the wet antiseptic from the application site did not produce a significant difference in product efficacy.
In a clinical trial to compare 2% CHG in 70% IPA and PVP-! scrub and paint patient preoperative skin preparation for the prevention of SSI, there were 849 patients randomly assigned to the study groups (409 in the chlorhexidine-alcohol and 440 in the povidone-iodine group) in the intention-to-treat analysis. The overall surgical site infection was significantly lower in the 2% CHG in 70% IPA group than in the PVP-I group (9.5% versus 16.1 %, p=0.004; relative risk, 0.59 with 95% confidence interval of 0.41 to 0.85). Preoperative cleansing of the patient's skin with chlorhexidine-alcohol is superior to povidone-iodine in preventing surgical site infection after clean-contaminated surgery.
Date of AwardSept 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTom S.J. Elliott (Supervisor) & Peter Lambert (Supervisor)


  • antiseptic
  • povidone-iodine
  • wound infection
  • antisepsis
  • healthcare associate infections

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