Chlorhexidine is frequently used to reduce oropharyngeal bacterial colonization in mechanically ventilated patients. How effective the drug is remains unclear.
What This Article Tells Us That Is New:
Bacterial colonization was evaluated in 30 mechanically ventilated patients before and after application of 0.12% chlorhexidine.
Chlorhexidine did not reduce colonization and may, therefore, be less effective than previously assumed.
Background: Oropharyngeal care with chlorhexidine to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia is currently questioned, and exhaustive microbiologic data assessing its efficacy are lacking. The authors therefore aimed to study the effect of chlorhexidine mouthwash on oropharyngeal bacterial growth, to determine chlorhexidine susceptibility of these bacteria, and to measure chlorhexidine salivary concentration after an oropharyngeal care.
Methods: This observational, prospective, single-center study enrolled 30 critically ill patients under mechanical ventilation for over 48 h. Oropharyngeal contamination was assessed by swabbing the gingivobuccal sulcus immediately before applying 0.12% chlorhexidine with soaked swabs, and subsequently at 15, 60, 120, 240, and 360 min after. Bacterial growth and identification were performed, and chlorhexidine minimal inhibitory concentration of recovered pathogens was determined. Saliva was collected in 10 patients, at every timepoint, with an additional timepoint after 30 min, to measure chlorhexidine concentration.
Results: Two hundred fifty bacterial samples were analyzed and identified 48 pathogens including Streptococci (27.1%) and Enterobacteriaceae (20.8%). Oropharyngeal contamination before chlorhexidine mouthwash ranged from 103 to 107 colony-forming units (CFU)/ml in the 30 patients (median contamination level: 2.5·106 CFU/ml), and remained between 8·105 (lowest) and 3·106 CFU/ml (highest count) after chlorhexidine exposure. These bacterial counts did not decrease overtime after chlorhexidine mouthwash (each minute increase in time resulted in a multiplication of bacterial count by a coefficient of 1.001, P = 0.83). Viridans group streptococci isolates had the lowest chlorhexidine minimal inhibitory concentration (4 [4 to 8] mg/l); Enterobacteriaceae isolates had the highest ones (32 [16 to 32] mg/l). Chlorhexidine salivary concentration rapidly decreased, reaching 7.6 [1.8 to 31] mg/l as early as 60 min after mouthwash.
Conclusions: Chlorhexidine oropharyngeal care does not seem to reduce bacterial oropharyngeal colonization in critically ill ventilated patients. Variable chlorhexidine minimal inhibitory concentrations along with low chlorhexidine salivary concentrations after mouthwash could explain this ineffectiveness, and thus question the use of chlorhexidine for ventilator-associated pneumonia prevention.