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Chlorhexidine Gluconate (CHG) Bathing to Prevent Infections

Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) is a cleaning product that kills germs. Daily bathing with CHG in the hospital helps keep infections from spreading. CHG bathing is especially helpful for patients in intensive care units (ICUs).

Increased risk for infection in the ICU

When you are in the ICU, you have a high risk of getting a new infection. You may be very ill. You may have more than one medical condition. That makes you more likely to get an infection. ICU patients are also likely to need treatments such as urinary catheters and ventilators. Things like these can increase the risk for infection. And many ICUs contain bacteria that may not respond to standard antibiotics. They can cause infections that are very hard to treat.

How CHG bathing helps

Many experts now recommend daily CHG bathing for all people receiving care in the ICU. Bathing with CHG seems to be better at preventing infections than bathing with plain soap and water. Daily CHG bathing lowers your risk of getting an infection in the hospital. You are less likely to get sick from a germ that is very hard to treat. CHG bathing can help prevent infections from germs such as:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)

  • Clostridium difficile (C diff)

  • Infections from central venous catheters

  • Infections at surgical sites

  • Infections from ventilator use

Experts are less certain about the role of daily CHG bathing for patients outside the ICU. But many people are at risk of getting a new infection while in the hospital. If you are at high risk for infection, your health care provider may advise daily CHG bathing for you, even if you are not in the ICU.

In some cases, you might do CHG bathing at home. For example, your health care provider may tell you to use a CHG skin cleanser before you have surgery. This can reduce the chance for infection. In some health care centers, patients who have MRSA need to bathe with CHG before elective surgery.

CHG bathing is not a substitute for other ways of controlling infection in the hospital. It also cannot prevent infection all of the time. But regular CHG bathing may reduce the risk that you will get a new infection. That may shorten your hospital stay and make it more likely for you to get well.

Risks of CHG bathing

Possible side effects include:

  • Skin rash (usually mild)

  • Allergic reaction

  • Skin dryness

Your risks may differ, depending on your age, your overall health, and other factors. CHG bathing might not be right for you if you have serious skin problems, irritation, or burns. Talk with your health care provider about all your concerns.

CHG bathing may pose another long-term risk to health care facilities. Over time, heavy use of CHG bathing in ICUs may help bacteria grow that are resistant to the treatment.

During CHG bathing

You will probably receive one of these baths per day. You can ask your nursing staff when you can normally expect this bath. Methods of CHG bathing may differ somewhat from hospital to hospital. Your health care team can let you know what to expect. As an example, you might expect the following:

  • Your nurse will help you remove your clothes and any medical attachments (such as ECG leads), if possible.

  • Your nurse will wash his or her hands and put on new gloves.

  • If this is your first bath, the nurse may give you a sponge bath with soap and water to clean you thoroughly. When you are dry, the CHG bath will begin.

  • The nurse may use special washcloths that already contain CHG. Your nurse will use these washcloths to massage you all over your body, except your face. It should feel much like a normal sponge bath. Your nurse will clean your face with plain soap and water afterward.

Many hospitals now avoid using a basin to give these baths. Basins may become contaminated with germs.

After CHG bathing

You will air dry for a few minutes after having your bath. Your nurse will apply any skin lotion as needed. He or she will help you put your clothes back on. Any medical attachments that have been removed will be reattached.

Let your health care provider know right away if the bath feels uncomfortable, or if you get dry skin or a rash. You may need to use extra lotion after your CHG bath. In rare cases some people have an allergic reaction. If that happens, you may need to stop CHG bathing.

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.