Alcohol acts as a disinfectant in ICUs

October 13th, 2008 - 2:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 13 (IANS) The use of ethanol as a disinfectant in intravenous catheters reduces blood stream infection rates in immune-suppressed patients. Joanne Sanders, doing her masters from Otago University, has shown that by using diluted ethanol (pharmacy grade alcohol), catheter-associated infection rates (CABSI) in patients having chemotherapy are four times lower compared to conventional methods.

Catheters are plastic tubes attached to veins for supplying drugs or blood.

“What really surprised us when we analysed the results was not that the patients with ethanol-lock catheters had fewer infections, but that the difference was so significant.

“Only nine percent of patients administered ethanol developed infections in the blood, but in contrast four times as many, or 37 percent, of those who were given the placebo saline solution, developed bloodstream infections.

“Patients with infections have to be treated with antibiotics, or have the catheter removed and a new one put in; much more problematic in anyone who has had their immune systems suppressed,” an Otago University release quoting Sanders said.

The research, which was supervised by Alan Pithie and Peter Ganly at Christchurch Hospital, looked at two groups of patients. Thirty four had ethanol locked into their central venous chest catheters for two hours every day to prevent infection, while 30 were given conventional treatment using a saline solution.

“It’s a very exciting result although in a relatively small sample of 64 patients,” Sander said. “However it’s generated a lot of interest both here and overseas as bloodstream infections can be life-threatening for patients who’ve been immuno-suppressed during chemotherapy for leukaemia, or those having a bone marrow transplant.”

Joanne says the ethanol seems to work well because it attacks all bacteria which have lodged in the biofilm on the inside of the catheter - unlike conventional antibiotics which only kill certain bacteria and have nowhere near the wide ranging hit rate of ethanol.

The big plus is that it’s cheap, at about $4 per patient per day; much cheaper than trying to deal with infections in seriously ill patients.

The study was published in Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

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