Clinical Inquiries

Do topical antibiotics improve wound healing?

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A small but well-designed study of 62 patients with major contaminated wounds failed to show any additional benefit when topical piperacillin/tazobactam (not available in US as a topical agent) was added to parenteral piperacillin/tazobactam (Zosyn) alone. Two of 31 patients on just parenteral antibiotics and 3 of 31 patients on both topical and parenteral antibiotics developed wound infections (P>.05).8

Finally, topical antibiotics also appear to aid in the healing of chronic wounds. However, these findings are difficult to interpret in light of small sample size and other methodological problems. A systematic review of the treatment of chronic wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, found 30 trials, including 25 RCTs, mostly of low quality. Little evidence supports the routine use of systemic antibiotics for patients with chronic wounds; however, some topical antiseptic and antimicrobial agents may hasten the healing of these wounds. Topical preparations that may be helpful include dimethyl sulfoxide (Rimso-50), silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene), benzoyl peroxide (Benzac, Brevoxyl, Desquam, Triaz, ZoDerm), oxyquinoline (Trimo-san Vaginal Jelly), and gentamicin (Garamycin).9

Honey may also make an acceptable wound dressing for chronic wounds, as it has been repeatedly shown to suppress bacterial growth. Infection with Clostridium spores does not appear to be a concern when treating chronic wounds with honey.10,11

Recommendations from others

Guidelines for antibiotic prophylaxis of surgical wounds uniformly recommend prophylaxis for all clean-contaminated, contaminated, and dirty procedures. Prophylaxis is considered optional for most clean procedures, although it may be indicated for certain at-risk patients and for clean procedures that fulfill specific risk criteria.12

The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends mupirocin as the best topical agent for the treatment and prevention of S aureus and S pyogenes infections, followed by bacitracin zinc and neomycin, although resistance is emerging.13 Expert and consensus opinion from the Canadian Chronic Wound Advisory Board and the International Wound Bed Preparation Advisory Board for wound care management of infected chronic wounds recommend that since bacterial infection can develop gradually, good-quality wound cultures should be used in conjunction with clinical assessment. Iodine and silver-based dressings, topical antibiotics, and systemic antibiotics can be helpful.14


Evidence-based answers from the Family Physicians Inquiries Network

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