BACKGROUND: Since the patient's skin is a major source of pathogens that cause surgical-site infection, optimization of preoperative skin antisepsis may decrease postoperative infections. We hypothesized that preoperative skin cleansing with chlorhexidine-alcohol is more protective against infection than is povidone-iodine. METHODS: We randomly assigned adults undergoing clean-contaminated surgery in six hospitals to preoperative skin preparation with either chlorhexidine-alcohol scrub or povidone-iodine scrub and paint. The primary outcome was any surgical-site infection within 30 days after surgery. Secondary outcomes included individual types of surgical-site infections. RESULTS: A total of 849 subjects (409 in the chlorhexidine-alcohol group and 440 in the povidone-iodine group) qualified for the intention-to-treat analysis. The overall rate of surgical-site infection was significantly lower in the chlorhexidine-alcohol group than in the povidone-iodine group (9.5% vs. 16.1%; P = 0.004; relative risk, 0.59; 95% confidence interval, 0.41 to 0.85). Chlorhexidine-alcohol was significantly more protective than povidone-iodine against both superficial incisional infections (4.2% vs. 8.6%, P = 0.008) and deep incisional infections (1% vs. 3%, P = 0.05) but not against organ-space infections (4.4% vs. 4.5%). Similar results were observed in the per-protocol analysis of the 813 patients who remained in the study during the 30-day follow-up period. Adverse events were similar in the two study groups. CONCLUSIONS: Preoperative cleansing of the patient's skin with chlorhexidine-alcohol is superior to cleansing with povidone-iodine for preventing surgical-site infection after clean-contaminated surgery. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00290290.).
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