Conference Coverage

Vaginal cleansing protocol curbs deep SSIs after cesarean



A quality improvement plan incorporating vaginal cleansing and azithromycin significantly reduced surgical-site infections (SSIs) after cesarean deliveries, reported Johanna Quist-Nelson, MD, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Dr. Johanna Quist-Nelson

Dr. Johanna Quist-Nelson

“Surgical site infections after a cesarean delivery are more common if the patient is in labor or has ruptured membranes,” she said at the 2020 virtual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists..

Two options to decrease the risk of SSIs after cesarean for those patients in labor or with ruptured membranes are vaginal cleansing and azithromycin, given in addition to preoperative antibiotics, Dr. Quist-Nelson said. She and her colleagues conducted a quality improvement study of the effects of a stepwise implementation of vaginal cleansing and azithromycin to reduce SSIs at cesarean delivery in this high-risk population. The data were collected from 2016 to 2019 at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia.

“We aimed to decrease our SSI rate by 30% by adopting an intervention of cleansing followed by azithromycin,” she said.

The researchers added vaginal cleansing to the SSI prevention protocol in January 2017, with the addition of azithromycin in March 2018. Vaginal cleansing involved 30 seconds of anterior to posterior cleaning prior to urinary catheter placement. Azithromycin was given at a dose of 500 mg intravenously in addition to preoperative antibiotics and within an hour of cesarean delivery.

A total of 1,033 deliveries qualified for the study by being in labor or with ruptured membranes; of these 291 were performed prior to the interventions, 335 received vaginal cleansing only, and 407 received vaginal cleansing and azithromycin. The average age of the participants was 30 years; approximately 42% were Black, and 32% were White.

Cleansing protocol reduces SSIs

Overall, the rate of SSIs was 22% in the standard care group, 17% in the vaginal cleansing group, and 15% in the vaginal cleansing plus azithromycin group. When broken down by infection type, no deep SSI occurred in the vaginal cleansing or cleansing plus azithromycin group, compared with 2% of the standard care group (P = .009). In addition, endometritis, which is an organ-space SSI, was significantly lower in the cleansing group (10%) and the cleansing plus azithromycin group (11%), compared with the standard care group (16%).

The study findings were limited by factors including the use of EMRs for collection of data, and given that it is a quality improvement study, there is a potential lack of generalizability to other institutions. The study focused on patients at high risk for SSI and the use of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) method of conducting the research, Dr. Quist-Nelson said. Compared with standard care, the implementation of vaginal cleansing reduced the SSI rate by 33%, with no significantly further change in SSI after the addition of azithromycin, she concluded.

Data sharing boosts compliance

In a question-and-answer session, Dr. Quist-Nelson noted that povidone iodine (Betadine) was chosen for vaginal cleansing because it was easily accessible at her institution, but that patients with allergies were given chlorhexidine. The cleansing itself was “primarily vaginal, not a full vulvar cleansing,” she clarified. The cleansing was performed immediately before catheter placement and included the urethra.

When asked about strategies to increase compliance, Dr. Quist-Nelson noted that sharing data was valuable, namely “reporting to our group the current compliance,” as well as sharing information by email and discussing it during multidisciplinary rounds.

The study was a quality improvement project and not a randomized trial, so the researchers were not able to tease out the impact of vaginal cleansing from the impact of azithromycin, Dr. Quist-Nelson said.

Based on her results, Dr. Quist-Nelson said she would recommend the protocol for use in patients who require cesarean delivery after being in labor or having ruptured membranes, and that “there are trials to support the use of both interventions.”

The results suggest opportunities for further randomized trials, including examination of the use of oral versus IV azithromycin, she added.

The study received no outside funding. Dr. Quist-Nelson had no financial conflicts to disclose.

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