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Cotton Swabs Help Prevent Surgical Site Infections: Study

THURSDAY June 30, 2011 -- Cotton swabs offer a cheap, effective way of reducing surgical site infections, according to researchers.

Daily use of dry cotton swabs to gently probe the incision sites of patients who'd undergone appendectomy dramatically reduced surgical site infections, the study revealed. Only 3 percent of patients who underwent the daily routine developed infections, compared with 19 percent of patients in a control group whose incision sites were swabbed with iodine.

Patients in the cotton swab group also had less postoperative pain, much shorter hospital stays (five versus seven days), and better cosmetic healing of their incisions, according to the study published in a recent issue of the Archives of Surgery.

The researchers believe that using cotton swabs to probe the incision site enables contaminated fluid trapped within soft tissues to drain. This may reduce the amount of bacteria in the wound while maintaining the moist environment needed for successful wound healing.

"This practice was introduced to me as a surgical resident 15 years ago," study author Dr. Shirin Towfigh, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said in a medical center news release. "I've used it routinely since then. While I thought all surgeons were aware of this treatment approach, I learned otherwise when I began my professional career. Since it was evident to me that probing certain wounds after surgery resulted in far fewer infections, I developed this clinical trial so that my colleagues across the country could learn about -- and confidently adopt -- the practice."

More than 500,000 surgical site infections occur in the United States each year. They account for nearly one-quarter of hospital-acquired infections and are a major cause of illness and death in hospital patients, the authors noted in the news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about surgical site infections.

Posted: June 2011


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