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Each year hundreds of thousands of surgical patients suffer from post-surgery infections. According to experts, many patients bring the bacteria with them in their noses or on their skin. Such bacteria are usually harmless, but when they enter the body through surgical incisions, they can cause infections that slow recovery, require expensive treatment, or possibly cause death.

According to two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there are some relatively simple tactics that hospitals can use to kill bacteria before surgery, thereby preventing many infections. Almost one-third of people carry around bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus in their nose or on their skin, and it usually does not pose any problem. However, if there is a breach in the skin, those people are susceptible to infection from their own bacteria.

In one study, patients who were treated for five days with an antibiotic ointment on their noses and showers with an antiseptic soap, were 60 percent less likely to develop an infection than patients who were given a placebo treatment. The second study showed that the skin disinfectant chlorhexidine-alcohol was significantly better at preventing infections than the standard disinfectant povidone-iodine. Chlorhexidine-alcohol is more expensive than povidone-iodine. A company that makes both products financed the disinfectant study.

According to experts not involved in either study, using the new methods makes a lot of sense, because the added cost of the new methods is far, far less than the cost of treating infections, which could be tens of thousands of dollars per patient.

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