Chlorhexidine skin or cord care for prevention of mortality and infections in neonates
A low-cost antiseptic used to cleanse the cord after birth could help reduce infant death rates in developing countries by 12%. Using chlorhexidine also halved the number of newborn babies that suffered from omphalitis, swelling of the cord stump commonly caused by bacterial infections. It was found that when chlorhexidine was used on babies born outside of a hospital, it reduces the number of newborn babies who died or suffer from infections.
A third of deaths in newborn babies are caused by infections. As one of the World Health Organisation’s Essential Medicines, chlorhexidine has been used in hospitals and other medical settings to prevent bacterial infections for many decades. It can be applied topically as a gel, wash or powder. In maternity care, it can be used either as a vaginal disinfectant to prevent the spread of bacteria from mother to baby, or as a cleansing agent for the newborn baby’s skin or umbilical cord. In some countries with high infant death rates, using chlorhexidine as a cleansing agent after birth has been shown to be a cost-effective way to reduce the risk of death from infection. However, more comprehensive approaches to examining the evidence are required. This review summarised data from 12 trials involving over 87,000 newborns. Seven of the trials took place in South-East Asia, two in Africa, two in Europe and one South America. Of the 12 trials, the five carried out in community settings, which involved 72,030 newborns, provided the highest quality evidence. These trials included home births.
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