Jail detainees who used washcloths to bathe appear to have fewer infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of serious skin infection that is common in U.S. jails, a new study indicates.
The detainees in the study used washcloths treated with a skin cleanser called “chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG),” which is known to kill MRSA. Another group of detainees used washcloths that contained only water, and a third group used nothing at all.
“Detainees in U.S. jails are at high risk for skin infections caused by methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and methicillin-susceptible S. aureus. While the use of CHG has been well studied in the healthcare setting, there has been limited research for it in this high-risk population,” Michael David, MD, PhD, of the University of Chicago Department of Medicine, a lead author of the study, in a news release. “Our findings suggest a promising and inexpensive intervention that may decrease S. aureus colonization in this high-risk group.”
MRSA is the main cause of skin and soft tissue infections in U.S. jails, according to the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, which conducted the study. Detainees can carry MRSA on their skin and in their noses, allowing the germ to be spread from person-to-person by direct contact or by touching germ-laden inanimate objects. MRSA infections are expensive to treat, and often recur.
In the current study, there were 4,196 detainees in 68 detention centers in the Dallas (TX) County Jail who were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- those who washed three times weekly with washcloths containing CHG
- those who washed three times weekly that contained only water
- and those who received no skin-cleansing treatment at all.
Within ix months, both detainees in the CHG and plain water washcloths groups did not show substantially decreased presence of MRSA. But after six months, detainees with any type of S. aureus was 51.1 percent in the group with no intervention compared to 40.7 percent in the CHG washcloth group and 42.8 percent in the group using water washcloths.
In other words, the CHG wash cloths were responsible for a substantial decrease in S. aureus hand and/or nose carriage, but plain water wash cloths were almost as effective as CHG washcloths at decreasing carriage of S. aureus.
The researchers write that the water washcloths may have been effective at eliminating MRSA because their results “may reflect the poor hygiene and infrequent showering or bathing” in many detainees who otherwise would not have bathed,” indicating that the water-only washcloths helped removed MRSA from the detainees’ skin.
Although the researchers write more in-depth studies need to be done, “our findings suggest a promising and inexpensive intervention that may decrease S. aureus colonization in this high-risk group.”