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Preoperative Disinfection of Surgeons' Hands: Use of Alcoholic Solutions and Effects of Gloves on Skin Flora

Br Med J 1974; 4 doi: (Published 16 November 1974) Cite this as: Br Med J 1974;4:369
  1. E. J. L. Lowbury,
  2. H. A. Lilly,
  3. G. A. J. Ayliffe


    A single application of about 10 ml of 95% alcoholic chlorhexidine (0·5%) or tetrabrom-o-methyl phenol (0·1%) rubbed on to the hands until they were dry led to mean reduction in viable bacterial counts from standard handwashings of 97·9 ± 1·09% and 91·8 ± 4·63% respectively. After six of such treatments, three on each of two successive days, the mean reductions in relation to viable counts before the first treatment were 99·7 ± 0·09% for alcoholic chlorhexidine and 99·5 ± 0·17% for tetrabrom-o-methyl phenol. These reductions were greater than those obtained with 4% chlorhexidine detergent solution— 87·1 ± 3·5% and 98·2 ± 1·6%, and with 95% or 70% ethyl alcohol and with aqueous 0·5% chlorhexidine. Preoperative washing of the surgeon's hands with alcoholic chlorhexidine used without addition of water is more effective and less expensive than handwashing with antiseptic detergent preparations and running water.

    The viable counts of washings from hands treated with various antiseptics, including ethyl alcohol, were lower in relation to the pretreatment levels when gloves had been worn for three hours than when samples for counts were taken immediately after the antiseptic treatment. No such difference was found in samplings from hands washed with unmedicated soap.

    Tests for residual action of antiseptics on the skin showed a greater effect with alcoholic chlorhexidine than with tetrabrom-o-methyl phenol, though both showed greater residual activity than an Irgasan DP 300 detergent preparation. No residual action was shown after 70% ethyl alcohol.