Chlorhexidine bathing to reduce central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection: impact and sustainability

Am J Med. 2012 May;125(5):505-11. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.10.032.


Background: Chlorhexidine bathing has been associated with reductions in healthcare-associated bloodstream infection. To determine the impact and sustainability of the effect of chlorhexidine bathing on central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection, we performed a prospective, 3-phase, multiple-hospital study.

Methods: In the medical intensive care unit and the respiratory care unit of a tertiary care hospital and the medical-surgical intensive care units of 4 community hospitals, rates of central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection were collected prospectively for each period. Pre-intervention (phase 1) patients were bathed with soap and water or nonmedicated bathing cloths; active intervention (phase 2) patients were bathed with 2% chlorhexidine gluconate cloths with the number of baths administered and skin tolerability assessed; post-intervention (phase 3) chlorhexidine bathing was continued but without oversight by research personnel. Central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection rates were compared over study periods using Poisson regression.

Results: Compared with pre-intervention, during active intervention there were significantly fewer central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infections (6.4/1000 central venous catheter days vs 2.6/1000 central venous catheter days, relative risk, 0.42; 95% confidence interval, 0.25-0.68; P<.001), and this reduction was sustained during post-intervention (2.9/1000 central venous catheter days; relative risk, 0.46; 95% confidence interval, 0.30-0.70; P<.001). During the active intervention period, compliance with chlorhexidine bathing was 82%. Few adverse events were observed.

Conclusion: In this multiple-hospital study, chlorhexidine bathing was associated with significant reductions in central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection, and these reductions were sustained post-intervention when chlorhexidine bathing was unmonitored. Chlorhexidine bathing was well tolerated and is a useful adjunct to reduce central venous catheter-associated bloodstream infection.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / economics
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Bacteremia / prevention & control*
  • Baths* / economics
  • Catheter-Related Infections / prevention & control*
  • Catheterization, Central Venous / adverse effects*
  • Chlorhexidine / administration & dosage
  • Chlorhexidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Chlorhexidine / economics
  • Chlorhexidine / pharmacology
  • Humans


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