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Vaginal cleansing at cesarean delivery works in practice



Vaginal cleansing before cesarean delivery was successfully implemented – and significantly decreased the rate of surgical site infections (SSI) – in a quality improvement study done at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

“Our goal was not to prove that vaginal preparation [before cesarean section] works, because that’s already been shown in large randomized, controlled trials, but to show that we can implement it and that we can see the same results in real life,” lead investigator Johanna Quist-Nelson, MD, said in an interview.

Dr. Quist-Nelson, a third-year fellow at the hospital and the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Philadelphia, was scheduled to present the findings at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG canceled the meeting and released abstracts for press coverage.

Resident and staff physicians as well as nursing and operating room staff were educated/reminded through a multipronged intervention about the benefits of vaginal cleansing with a sponge stick preparation of 10% povidone-iodine solution (Betadine) – and later about the potential benefits of intravenous azithromycin – immediately before cesarean delivery for women in labor and women with ruptured membranes.

Dr. Quist-Nelson and coinvestigators compared three periods of time: 12 months preintervention, 14 months with vaginal cleansing promoted for infection prophylaxis, and 16 months of instructions for both vaginal cleansing and intravenous azithromycin. The three periods captured 1,033 patients. The researchers used control charts – a tool “often used in implementation science,” she said – to analyze monthly data and assess trends for SSI rates and for compliance.

The rate of SSI – as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – decreased by 33%, they found, from 23% to 15%. The drop occurred mainly 4 months into the vaginal cleansing portion of the study and was sustained during the following 26 months. The addition of intravenous azithromycin education did not result in any further change in the SSI rate, Dr. Quist-Nelson and associates reported in the study – the abstract for which was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. It won a third-place prize among the papers on current clinical and basic investigation.

Compliance with the vaginal cleansing protocol increased from 60% at the start of the vaginal cleansing phase to 85% 1 year later. Azithromycin compliance rose to 75% over the third phase of the intervention.

Vaginal cleansing has received attention at Thomas Jefferson for several years. In 2017, researchers there collaborated with investigators in Italy on a systemic review and meta-analysis which concluded that women who received vaginal cleansing before cesarean delivery – most commonly with 10% povidine-iodine – had a significantly lower incidence of endometritis (Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Sep;130[3]:527-38).

A subgroup analysis showed that the benefit of vaginal cleansing was limited to “those women who have a cesarean section after their water breaks or when they’re in labor,” Dr. Quist-Nelson said.

Azithromycin similarly was found to reduce the risk of postoperative infection in women undergoing nonelective cesarean deliveries in a randomized trial published in 2016 (N Engl J Med. 2016 Sep 29;375[13]:1231-41). While the new quality improvement study did not suggest any additional benefit to intravenous azithromycin, “we continue to offer it [at our hospital] because it has been shown [in prior research] to be beneficial and because our study wasn’t [designed] to show benefit,” Dr. Quist-Nelson said.

The quality improvement intervention included hands-on training on vaginal cleansing for resident physicians and e-mail reminders for physician staff, and daily reviews for 1 week on intravenous azithromycin for resident physicians and EMR “best practice advisory” reminders for physician staff. “We also wrote a protocol available online, and put reminders in our OR notes, as well as trained the nursing staff and OR staff,” she said.

Dr. Catherine Cansino is an associate clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis.

Dr. Catherine Cansino

Catherine Cansino, MD, MPH, of the University of California, Davis, said in an interview that SSI rates are “problematic [in obstetrics], not only because of morbidity but also potential cost because of rehospitalization.” The study shows that vaginal cleansing “is absolutely a good target for quality improvement,” she said. “It’s promising, and very exciting to see something like this have such a dramatic positive result.” Dr. Cansino, who is a member of the Ob.Gyn News editorial advisory board, was not involved in this study.

Thomas Jefferson Hospital has had relatively high SSI rates, Dr. Quist-Nelson noted.

Dr. Quist-Nelson and coinvestigators did not report any potential conflicts of interest. Dr. Cansino also did not report any potential conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Quist-Nelson J et al. Obstet. Gynecol. 2020 May;135:1S. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000662876.23603.13.

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