Chlorhexidine Baths Reduce MRSA Acquisition

NursingJanuary 15, 2014

Bedside baths have long been a standard component of nursing care. Recent studies suggest that the use of chlorhexidine cloth, rather than soap and water, can prevent infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.

Antiseptic Cloth

A disposable wipe saturated with a two percent solution of chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) acts as a significant barrier to hospital-acquired MRSA infection. Simply replacing soap and water with this antiseptic cloth not only kills MRSA on the skin, but it has a residual preventive effect for up to six hours. Used for years in mouthwash and as a topical scrub for surgical patients, this is not a new agent. Its use for hospital-acquired MRSA prevention, however, is a recent phenomenon.


There are several strains of MRSA commonly residing in the nose, on the skin and under the fingernails of millions of Americans. Part of its name, methicillin resistant, is a clue as to why the bacterium is so dangerous. For most people with healthy immune systems, MRSA is harmless. It is problematic to those whose immune systems are compromised, individuals who have open wounds or people who are having surgery. Because it has developed resistance to antibiotic therapy, MRSA becomes very difficult to treat once it is presented with the opportunity to invade the body. The microscopic organisms can then infect any of the major organs, and can even become systemic throughout the body.

Chlorhexidine vs. MRSA

Studies show that this antiseptic cloth has benefited multiple populations in a variety of settings. For example, one study that followed CHG bathing among 4,000 children in ten pediatric intensive care units found a 36 percent reduction in bloodstream infections. A Canadian study reported an 82 percent reduction in the incidence of MRSA infection in a 27-bed sub-acute/chronic disease nursing unit over a 33-month period. Yet another study discovered that CHG also has a preventative effect on vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), certain fungal infections and even some viruses, although additional research is needed.

Are CHG baths safe?

In April 2012, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) issued a practice alert, advising nurses bathing bed-bound patients to use CHG cloths. The product has little detrimental effect on patients, although following its use, some people have reported mild to moderate skin irritation. Not recommended for children under two months of age, CHG cloths shouldn't be used near the eyes, ears, body cavities and meninges. While further research will determine the overall efficacy and safety of chlorhexidine baths, research of its benefit in reducing MRSA infection among patients within medical facilities is supporting its effectiveness.

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