Effectiveness of routine patient cleansing with chlorhexidine gluconate for infection prevention in the medical intensive care unit

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2009 Oct;30(10):959-63. doi: 10.1086/605925.


Background: Controlled studies that took place in medical intensive care units (MICUs) have demonstrated that bathing patients with chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) can reduce skin colonization with potential pathogens and can lessen the risk of central venous catheter (CVC)-associated bloodstream infection (BSI).

Objective: To examine, without oversight of practice by research study staff, the effectiveness or real-world effect of patient cleansing with CHG on rates of CVC-associated BSI.

Design: In the fall of 2005, the MICU at Rush University Medical Center discontinued bathing patients daily with soap and water and substituted skin cleansing with no-rinse, 2% CHG-impregnated cloths. This change was a clinical management decision without research input.

Setting: A 21-bed MICU at Rush University Medical Center.

Patients: Patients hospitalized in the MICU during the period from September 2004 through October 2006.

Methods: In a pre-post study design, we gathered data from administrative and laboratory databases, infection control practitioner logs, and patient medical charts to compare rates of CVC-associated BSI and blood culture contamination between the baseline soap-and-water bathing period (September 2004-October 2005) and the CHG bathing period (November 2005-October 2006). Rates of secondary BSI, Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), and urinary tract infection (UTI) served as control variables that were not expected to be affected by CHG bathing.

Results: Bathing with CHG was associated with a statistically significant decrease in the rate of CVC-associated BSI (from 5.31 to 0.69 cases per 1,000 CVC-days; P = .006) and in the rate of blood culture contamination (from 6.99 to 4.1 cases per 1,000 patient-days; P = .04). Rates of secondary BSI, CDI, VAP, and UTI did not change significantly.

Conclusions: In our analysis of real-world practice, daily bathing of MICU patients with CHG was effective at reducing rates of CVC-associated BSI and blood culture contamination. Controlled studies are needed to determine whether these beneficial effects extend outside the MICU.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology
  • Bacteremia / epidemiology
  • Bacteremia / microbiology
  • Bacteremia / prevention & control*
  • Baths / methods*
  • Blood / microbiology
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / adverse effects*
  • Chicago
  • Chlorhexidine / administration & dosage
  • Chlorhexidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Chlorhexidine / pharmacology
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology
  • Cross Infection / microbiology
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control*
  • Culture Media
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Culture Media
  • chlorhexidine gluconate
  • Chlorhexidine