Colonization with health care-associated pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, enterococci, Gram-negative organisms, and Clostridium difficile is associated with increased risk of infection. Decolonization is an evidence-based intervention that can be used to prevent health care-associated infections (HAIs). This review evaluates agents used for nasal topical decolonization, topical (e.g., skin) decolonization, oral decolonization, and selective digestive or oropharyngeal decontamination. Although the majority of studies performed to date have focused on S. aureus decolonization, there is increasing interest in how to apply decolonization strategies to reduce infections due to Gram-negative organisms, especially those that are multidrug resistant. Nasal topical decolonization agents reviewed include mupirocin, bacitracin, retapamulin, povidone-iodine, alcohol-based nasal antiseptic, tea tree oil, photodynamic therapy, omiganan pentahydrochloride, and lysostaphin. Mupirocin is still the gold standard agent for S. aureus nasal decolonization, but there is concern about mupirocin resistance, and alternative agents are needed. Of the other nasal decolonization agents, large clinical trials are still needed to evaluate the effectiveness of retapamulin, povidone-iodine, alcohol-based nasal antiseptic, tea tree oil, omiganan pentahydrochloride, and lysostaphin. Given inferior outcomes and increased risk of allergic dermatitis, the use of bacitracin-containing compounds cannot be recommended as a decolonization strategy. Topical decolonization agents reviewed included chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG), hexachlorophane, povidone-iodine, triclosan, and sodium hypochlorite. Of these, CHG is the skin decolonization agent that has the strongest evidence base, and sodium hypochlorite can also be recommended. CHG is associated with prevention of infections due to Gram-positive and Gram-negative organisms as well as Candida. Conversely, triclosan use is discouraged, and topical decolonization with hexachlorophane and povidone-iodine cannot be recommended at this time. There is also evidence to support use of selective digestive decontamination and selective oropharyngeal decontamination, but additional studies are needed to assess resistance to these agents, especially selection for resistance among Gram-negative organisms. The strongest evidence for decolonization is for use among surgical patients as a strategy to prevent surgical site infections.
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