Comparison of irrigation solutions and devices in a contaminated musculoskeletal wound survival model

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2009 Jan;91(1):92-8. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.G.01566.


Background: There is much to learn about the effectiveness of different methods currently used for the irrigation of open wounds. The purpose of this study was to compare various approaches in a survival animal model.

Methods: We used an established goat model involving the creation of a reproducible complex musculoskeletal wound followed by inoculation with Pseudomonas aeruginosa (lux) bacteria. This genetically altered luminescent bacterium provides the ability for quantitative analysis with a photon-counting camera system. For Study 1, wound irrigation was performed six hours after the injury and inoculation; the goats were assigned to four treatment groups: normal saline solution, bacitracin solution, castile soap, and benzalkonium chloride. All wounds received sharp d├ębridement and irrigation with use of a pulsatile lavage device (19 psi). Images and photon counts were obtained prior to irrigation, after irrigation, and forty-eight hours after injury and inoculation. For Study 2, we used the same animal model and compared bulb syringe and pulsatile lavage irrigation with saline solution.

Results: In Study 1, the irrigation treatment lowered the bacterial counts in all treatment groups. The greatest reduction was seen with castile soap, which lowered the photon count to 13% of the pretreatment level. This was followed by benzalkonium chloride, bacitracin, and saline solution at 18%, 22%, and 29%, respectively. At forty-eight hours, imaging showed a rebound in bacterial counts in every group. The highest rebound was measured in the castile soap group, which rebounded to 120% of the pretreatment level. The benzalkonium chloride group experienced a rebound to 94% of the pretreatment level. These were followed by bacitracin solution (89%) and normal saline solution (68%). In Study 2, both treatment methods were effective in removing 75% of the bacteria initially. At forty-eight hours, the bacterial levels in the pulsed lavage group rebounded to 94% of the original levels (compared with 48% in the bulb syringe group). The difference in the mean photon count ratios at forty-eight hours was significant (p = 0.048).

Conclusions: Approaches used to remove bacteria from wounds, such as irrigants other than saline solution or high-pressure devices, may not have the best clinical outcome.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacitracin / therapeutic use
  • Benzalkonium Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Goats
  • Pseudomonas Infections / drug therapy*
  • Soaps / therapeutic use
  • Sodium Chloride / therapeutic use
  • Solutions
  • Surgical Wound Infection / drug therapy*
  • Surgical Wound Infection / microbiology
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods


  • Benzalkonium Compounds
  • Soaps
  • Solutions
  • Bacitracin
  • Sodium Chloride