(HealthDay News) — Using chlorhexidine to clean the umbilical cords of infants born outside of a hospital lowers infant infection and death rates in developing countries, according to a review published online March 5 in The Cochrane Library.
“Based on our review, using chlorhexidine to clean the umbilical cord saves newborn babies lives,” lead researcher Anju Sinha, M.D., Ph.D., of the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi, said in a journal news release. The findings were based on 12 clinical trials, some of them conducted in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. “The greatest benefits were seen in the Southeast Asian studies,” Sinha said. “The results from African studies are less convincing, so we would like to see whether the results from ongoing trials in Zambia and Tanzania can substantiate this evidence.”
The review concluded that cleaning umbilical cords with chlorhexidine reduced the risk of infections and the number of infant deaths by 12 percent, compared with keeping cords dry. Use of the antiseptic led to a 50 percent reduction in the number of newborns with swelling of the cord stump that’s commonly caused by bacterial infections.
The antiseptic can be applied as a gel, wash, or powder, the study authors said in the news release. In maternity care, chlorhexidine can be used as a vaginal disinfectant to prevent the spread of bacteria from mother to infant, or to clean a newborn’s skin or umbilical cord.