Readers weigh in on vaginal cleansing prior to cesarean delivery

Plus more Letters to the Editor topics




In his January 2016 Editorial, Editor in Chief Robert L. Barbieri, MD, presented evidence supporting the practice of vaginal cleansing with povidone-iodine prior to cesarean delivery (CD) to prevent postoperative endometritis. He then asked readers if they would consider adopting such a practice. More than 250 readers weighed in through the Quick Poll at, and many readers sent in letters with follow-up questions and comments on controlling bacterial contamination, vaginal seeding, etc. Here are some of the letters, along with Dr. Barbieri’s response and the Quick Poll results.

A contradiction in definitions?
There seems to be a contradiction in definitions. The second sentence of the article defines endometritis as the presence of fever plus low abdominal tenderness. However, the studies presented state that vaginal cleansing pre-CD decreased endometritis but did not decrease postpartum fever. Is this not a discrepancy?
Nancy Kerr, MD, MPH

Albuquerque, New Mexico

A question about povidone-iodine
Have any studies been done on newborn iodine levels after vaginal cleansing with povidone-iodine prior to CD?
G. Millard Simmons Jr, MD
Hilton Head, Bluffton, South Carolina

Additional tips for controlling bacterial contamination
Dr. Barbieri’s editorial on vaginal cleansing prior to CD is eye opening. I have a few additional suggestions to control bacterial contamination.

First, I examine my patients in labor as few times as necessary, and I ask the nurses (RNs) not to place their fingers in the patient’s vagina while she is pushing. I remove the Foley catheter when I feel progress (descent of fetal head) is being achieved. In addition, physicians as well as RNs should consider changing their scrubs between deliveries, as I believe that bacterial contamination is splattered all over the place, especially into the birth canal. These methods have worked for me in my over-20 years of practice.

I also firmly remind the RN circulator to perform a generous vaginal cleanse with povidone-iodine, in addition to the usual intravenous prophylaxis, before hysterectomy.
Luis Leyva Jr, MD
Miami, Florida

Mixed feelings
My first reaction to this Editorial was: Is this a solution in search of a problem? That is to say, how much of a clinical problem is endometritis after CD? Are we really treating the proposed problem, and does treatment affect long-term outcomes?

Upon reflection, I have concluded that vaginal cleansing pre-CD does intuitively make sense. What sways me in this direction is that the practice is simple, easy, and inexpensive. Since we typically have the patient positioned for Foley catheter insertion, performing vaginal cleansing as we put in the Foley would be easy. If vaginal cleansing were to be done, I definitely would be in favor of doing such practice liberally—for all CDs to make vaginal cleansing part of the “routine.”

Keep in mind that we are still chasing a problem of little clinical significance.

The biggest accomplishment has been to get everyone to give antibiotics preoperatively rather than after cutting the umbilical cord. We knew that this was best practice as early as the late 1980s/early 1990s, and I have been fighting this battle ever since. Believe it or not, there are still a few holdouts.
George H. Davis, DO
Johnson City, Tennessee

Would vaginal cleansing benefit all women in labor?
Vaginal cleansing before CD reminds me of my residency days when all women having hysterectomies were admitted early and given povidone-iodine (Betadine) douches the evening before surgery (unless an iodine allergy was present).

While reading your Editorial, I had several thoughts and questions. 1) Since vaginal cleansing seems to benefit CD patients, might it not benefit all laboring patients? 2) Is the timing of vaginal cleansing critical? 3) Should we do vaginal cleansing on all laboring patients if timing is not critical?

I plan to bring up the topic of vaginal cleansing for CD with my colleagues at our next department meeting, since it seems like such a simple, logical, inexpensive, and beneficial thing to do.
Douglas G. Tolley, MD
Yuba City, California

An early study on using povidone-iodine gel before CD
When I was a chief resident at Kings County Hospital in 1973, we had a very high rate of post-CD endometritis. I conducted a small study on the use of povidone-iodine gel in the last month of pregnancy. Before commencing, we confirmed that the gel did not interfere with diagnosing ruptured membranes.

Obstetric service patients were randomly divided into “A” and “B” groups. The A patients were asked to use povidone-iodine gel at night for the last 2 weeks before their estimated due date. When admitted in labor, they were asked to confirm its use. When a resident diagnosed post-CD endometritis, we kept track of which group the patient was in and whether or not that patient had used povidone-iodine. Approximately 100 infected patients were evaluated from each group.


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‘Vaginal seeding’ practice comes with risks

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