A latest review published in The Cochrane Library shows that use of a common antiseptic like chlorhexidine, when used on skin and the umbilical cord, could prevent infant mortality and reduce infections in neonates. The review concludes these findings from 12 independent trials involving 87,000 newborns. There were seven hospital-based and five community-based studies. In four studies maternal vaginal wash with chlorhexidine was done in addition to neonatal skin and cord care.
Deaths in newborn babies caused by infections are common in developing countries. 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 years now. It can be applied topically as a gel, wash or as a 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. Using chlorhexidine is a cost-effective method and an easy-to-use cleansing agent.
The authors say that evidence shows that chlorhexidine skin or cord care in the community setting results in a 50% reduction in the incidence of omphalitis (inflammation of the umbilical cord stump) and a 12% reduction in neonatal mortality. Also, maternal vaginal chlorhexidine compared to usual care probably leads to no difference in neonatal mortality in hospital settings. The uncertainty over the effect of maternal vaginal chlorhexidine on mortality outcomes reflects small sample sizes and low event rates in the community settings.
The original review can be accessed here.