What can surgeons do to prevent infections from surgery?

Arthur W. Perry, MD
Plastic Surgery
Since 1955, surgeons have used betadine to clean skin in surgery and reduce infections. It works well and has probably saved millions of lives. But in the last few years another germ killer called chlorhexidine has been shown to be even better than betadine. So, more and more surgeons have combined chlorhexidine with keeping patients warm and giving them plenty of oxygen to decrease the infection rate.

Now orthopedic surgeons at Johns Hopkins have shown that, by washing their skin with chlorhexidine cloths the day before surgery and the morning of surgery, they can reduce the infection rate to almost nothing. You read this correctly -- with this simple measure, the normal 2% infection rate was reduced to zero.

Chlorhexidine has long been known to decrease the surgical infection rate, but the results were not as convincing as this. The change? Instead of using chlorhexidine as a soap and rinsing it off at the end of the shower, the residue is left on the skin, killing germs for hours after application. So, if you're having surgery in the future, ask your surgeon about using chlorhexidine cloths before surgery.
Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgery

To prevent surgical infections several steps can be performed. First, intravenous antibiotics are given to my patients receiving general anesthesia. Next, the patient will be prepped with either Betadine or Chlorhexidine (hibiclens) prior to making incisions. Finally, our patients are placed on a week of post-operative oral antibiotics. Normally, this is Keflex for patients not allergic to penicillin.

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