New Antiseptic For Surgery

Every year, more than 27 million surgeries are performed throughout the United States. Unfortunately, up to half a million patients develop an infection as a result. But research just published in the New England Journal of Medicine by a Houston doctor points to a better way to cut down on infections — and save money. Melissa Galvez reports.


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There are very few medical treatments that doctors have relied on for almost 200 years. But iodine was used to cleanse wounds since before the war of 1812, and it’s still applied in most surgeries to kill bacteria. But a new study led by Dr. Rabih Darouiche at the DeBakey VA Medical Center shows that a less common antiseptic works much better.

“We found that the use of chlorhexidine alcohol antisepsis reduces the rate of surgical site infection by 40% as compared to povidone iodine.”

Chlorhexidine and iodine have about the same bacteria-killing properties, but chlorhexidine acts more quickly and stays effective longer. It’s also more expensive per application. But Darouiche says that for every extra $150 dollars.

“We are able to prevent one case of surgical site infection which can cost as low as a few thousand dollars and as high a $60,000 to treat. So the additional cost very much pales in comparison to the overall savings.”

Darouiche hopes other hospitals will follow the DeBakey Medical Center’s lead in adopting the new antiseptic. In the meantime, he urges patients to ask their doctor about infection prevention—before the surgical incision is made.

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