Chlorhexidine (CHG) Bathing to Prevent Healthcare-Linked Infections
What is CHG bathing?
Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) is a cleaning product that kills germs. Daily baths
with CHG reduce the spread of infections in hospitals. CHG baths are especially helpful
in intensive care units (ICUs).
For several reasons, patients staying in the ICU have a high risk of getting a new
infection. These patients are often very ill. They may have more than one health condition.
That makes them more likely to get an infection. ICU patients are also likely to need
medical devices, such as urinary catheters and ventilators. These things can increase
the risk for infection. Plus, many ICUs contain bacteria that have become resistant
to many antibiotic medicines. These bacteria may not respond to standard antibiotics.
They can cause infections that are very hard to treat.
These types of infections cause major symptoms in many ICU patients each year. They
may even cause death. To help prevent them, hospitals practice many precautions. These
precautions now include daily bathing with CHG for every person staying in the ICU.
During CHG bathing, a nurse cleans you with a washcloth. The washcloth has been infused
with CHG. These baths often take place after a normal soap and water sponge bath.
They take place each day, as long as you stay in the ICU. You might also need a CHG
bath in other medical situations as well.
Why might I need CHG bathing?
Many experts now recommend daily CHG bathing for all people getting care in the ICU.
That is because the risk for infection is so high. Bathing with CHG seems to work
better at preventing infections than bathing with just soap and water.
Daily CHG bathing generally 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. One example
is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). CHG bathing can also help prevent
other types of infections, such as:
Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
Infections from central venous catheters
Infections at surgical sites
Infections from ventilator use
Experts are less certain how helpful daily CHG baths are for patients outside the
ICU. Many people are at risk of getting a new infection while in the hospital. This
risk is not as high as the risk for people staying in the ICU. If you are at high
risk for infection, your healthcare provider might advise daily CHG bathing for you,
even if you are not in the ICU.
In some cases, you might do CHG bathing yourself at home. For example, your healthcare
provider might advise using a CHG skin cleanser if you have a MRSA infection. CHG
bathing might also be advised before you have surgery to reduce the chance for infection.
In some centers, patients who screen positive for MRSA need to bathe with CHG before
What are the risks of CHG bathing?
It is rare to have problems with CHG bathing. Some possible side effects of the practice
Skin rash (usually mild)
Skin dryness with lengthy use (the most common side effect)
Irritation of mucous membranes if applied by accident to the eyes or inside the mouth,
ears, nose, genitals, or rectum. Don't apply it to these sensitive parts of your body.
Your risks may differ depending on your age, your health conditions, and other factors.
CHG baths might not be right for you if you have serious skin problems, irritation,
or burns. Talk with your healthcare provider about all your concerns. CHG bathing
is generally not used in babies younger than 2 months old.
CHG bathing may pose another long-term risk to healthcare facilities. Over time, heavy
use of CHG bathing in ICUs may promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to
How do I get ready for CHG bathing?
You shouldn't need to do much to prepare for CHG bathing. Your nurse can gather all
the needed supplies. Ask any questions that you have about the process and the reasons
What happens during CHG bathing?
The exact method of CHG bathing may differ somewhat from hospital to hospital and
among different healthcare providers. Your medical team can let you know exactly 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 this is possible.
Your nurse will do the bath using freshly washed hands and new gloves.
If this is your first bath, the nurse might give you a sponge bath with soap and water
to clean you thoroughly. When you are dry, the CHG bath will begin.
Often the nurse will use a special CHG-infused washcloth. 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 soap and water instead.)
Try not to swallow CHG or apply it to your mouth or eyes, inside your ears, inside
your vagina or onto your penis, or to the skin right at your anus.
Many hospitals now don't use a basin to do these baths. Basins may become contaminated
What happens after CHG bathing?
Typically, you will air dry for a few minutes after having your bath. Your nurse will
apply any needed lotions. Someone will help you put your clothes back on. Any medical
devices that have been removed will be reattached.
You will probably have one of these baths per day. You can ask your nursing staff
when you can normally expect this bath.
Let your healthcare provider know right away if the bath feels uncomfortable or if
you develop dry skin or a rash. You may need to use extra lotion after your CHG bath.
In rare cases, some people have a true allergic reaction. If that happens, you may
need to stop having CHG bathing.
CHG bathing is not a substitute for other ways of controlling infection in the hospital.
It also can't prevent infection all the time. But regular CHG baths may reduce the
risk that you or a loved one will get a new infection. That may shorten your hospital
stay and increase your chance of a good outcome.
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