Prevention of nosocomial infection in cardiac surgery by decontamination of the nasopharynx and oropharynx with chlorhexidine gluconate: a randomized controlled trial

JAMA. 2006 Nov 22;296(20):2460-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.296.20.2460.


Context: Nosocomial infections are an important cause of morbidity and mortality after cardiac surgery. Decolonization of endogenous potential pathogenic microorganisms is important in the prevention of nosocomial infections.

Objective: To determine the efficacy of perioperative decontamination of the nasopharynx and oropharynx with 0.12% chlorhexidine gluconate for reduction of nosocomial infection after cardiac surgery.

Design, setting, and participants: A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted at the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, between August 1, 2003, and September 1, 2005. Of 991 patients older than 18 years undergoing elective cardiothoracic surgery during the study interval, 954 were eligible for analysis.

Intervention: Oropharyngeal rinse and nasal ointment containing either chlorhexidine gluconate or placebo.

Main outcome measures: Incidence of nosocomial infection, in addition to the rate of Staphylococcus aureus nasal carriage and duration of hospital stay.

Results: The incidence of nosocomial infection in the chlorhexidine gluconate group and placebo group was 19.8% and 26.2%, respectively (absolute risk reduction [ARR], 6.4%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1%-11.7%; P = .002). In particular, lower respiratory tract infections and deep surgical site infections were less common in the chlorhexidine gluconate group than in the placebo group (ARR, 6.5%; 95% CI, 2.3%-10.7%; P = .002; and 3.2%; 95% CI, 0.9%-5.5%; P = .002, respectively). For the prevention of 1 nosocomial infection, 16 patients needed to be treated with chlorhexidine gluconate. A significant reduction of 57.5% in S aureus nasal carriage was found in the chlorhexidine gluconate group compared with a reduction of 18.1% in the placebo group (P<.001). Total hospital stay for patients treated with chlorhexidine gluconate was 9.5 days compared with 10.3 days in the placebo group (ARR, 0.8 days; 95% CI, 0.24-1.88; P = .04).

Conclusion: Decontamination of the nasopharynx and oropharynx with chlorhexidine gluconate appears to be an effective method to reduce nosocomial infection after cardiac surgery.

Trial registration: Identifier: NCT00272675.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Aged
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Carrier State
  • Chlorhexidine / administration & dosage
  • Chlorhexidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Chlorhexidine / therapeutic use
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Gels
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouthwashes
  • Nasopharynx / microbiology*
  • Oropharynx / microbiology*
  • Perioperative Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / prevention & control
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification
  • Surgical Wound Infection / epidemiology
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Gels
  • Mouthwashes
  • chlorhexidine gluconate
  • Chlorhexidine

Associated data