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Swabbing and washing nostrils cuts risk of getting a resistant infection

Think of it as decontaminating yourself. 

Hospitalized patients with certain superbugs can cut their risk of developing full-blown infections if they swab medicated goo in their nose and use special soap and mouthwash after going home, a new study found.

It’s a low-tech approach to a big problem: about five percent of patients have MRSA – antibiotic-resistant Staph bacteria – lurking on their skin or in their noses.

This puts them at high risk of developing an infection while recovering from an illness or an operation. 

These can affect the skin, heart, brain, lungs, bones and joints, and most of them land people back in the hospital.

The team, from the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, said the hygiene steps trimmed that infection risk by nearly one-third.

A new study found that hospitalized patients who carry superbugs can reduce their infection risk by applying an antibiotic ointment in their nose after going home. Pictured: Researcher Raheeb Saavedra demonstrates how to use the medicated ointment 

A lot has been done to curb infections in hospitals, and now attention is shifting to what happens after patients leave. 

Nine states – California, Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Illinois, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maine and New Jersey – require that hospitals test the most vulnerable patients, such as those in intensive care, for MRSA. Many other places do it voluntarily. 

‘It’s a very simple solution. You don’t have to swallow a medicine, you just have to clean the outside of your body for a little while longer,’ said lead author Dr Susan Huang, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 2,000 patients at hospitals in southern California.

All of them were found to be carrying MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

They were all given information on ways to avoid infection, and half of them also got special products: mouthwash, liquid soap containing an antiseptic and an antibiotic ointment to swab in the nose. 

They were told to use these Monday through Friday, every other week for six months.  

One year later, six percent of those in the deep-clean group had developed an MRSA infection compared to nine percent of the other group.  

There were no serious side effects. Forty-four people had dry or irritated skin, and most continued using the products despite that.

Heather Avizius was one of them. The 41-year-old nanny has had MRSA infections in the past and entered the study after severe complications of Crohn’s disease landed her in St Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California, eight years ago.

She said she hasn’t had MRSA infections since completing the deep-clean regimen. 

‘I took the regimen very, very seriously’, she said. ‘I felt cleaner and safer’ and less worried about spreading germs to her children.

Nearly half dropped out of the study early or couldn’t be found for follow-up.

‘Many people may think: “I feel fine, I don’t really need to do this”,’ said Dr John Jernigan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘The risk doesn’t end once you go home.’

Federal grants paid for the products. They would cost $150 to $200 for six months otherwise, Dr Huang said. 

The antiseptic soap was a four percent chlorhexidine solution sold in many drugstores.

Other soaps, even ones labeled antibacterial, ‘may not have the active ingredients to remove MRSA,’ said Dr Robert Weinstein, another study leader and an infections specialist at Cook County Health and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

He said it’s worth it for patients to do whatever they can to prevent an MRSA infection.

‘You left the hospital, you don’t want to go back,’ Dr Weinstein said.


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