Nasal Decolonization

How nasal decolonization has been demonstrated to help prevent surgical site infections

Nasal decolonization for patients at high risk for infection can have very real benefits in reducing their risk, said Keith St. John, MT (ASCP), MS, CIC, vice president, clinical affairs, for PDI. In fact, this has become such a well-demonstrated intervention for patient safety that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended nasal decolonization as part of a comprehensive approach for patients undergoing high-risk surgeries as well as patients in high-risk settings, such as intensive care units, and patients with medical devices that place them at risk for infection, such as central venous catheters (

Why the nares are critical to infection prevention

According to the most recent estimate, the average adult human body is comprised of 30 trillion human cells – the cells that make up your skin, bone, organs, hair, and fluids, St. John said. The average adult human body consists of approximately 39 trillion microbial cells1. “We are, literally, outnumbered; in essence, we are walking microbiomes. Usually this is a symbiotic state. Without microorganisms in your intestinal tract, for example, you wouldn’t be able to digest food.”

The human nares are no exception. In healthy adults, the predominant organism is Staphylococcus epidermidis in more than  75% of people. The pathogen, Staphylococcus aureus, is present in more than a third of the general adult population2.

However, the distribution of organisms changes throughout our lives, St. John said. For example, in children, the predominant organism is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Importantly, the organisms in the nose can cause infections. For 85% of surgical site infections caused by S. aureus, isolates from the incision site and the nares have been shown to be genetically identical (by DNA analysis) suggesting cause and effect3. But it doesn’t start and stop with surgeries. For bloodstream infections, the relatedness between isolates from the nose and the causative organism was 82.2%4 and for pneumonia, it can be as high as 94%5.

Nasal decolonization has been demonstrated to help prevent surgical site infections (SSIs) for nearly 20 years6. St. John cited a randomized open label trial that compared twice daily for 5 days of nasal mupirocin vs. 2 applications of nasal povidone iodine (PI) within 2 hours of incision for primary or revision arthroplasty and spine fusion surgery was performed at NYU Hospital Center. The study demonstrated S. aureus deep SSI developed in 5 of 763 surgical procedures in the mupirocin group and 0 of 776 surgical procedures in the povidone-iodine group (P = .03). This led to the conclusion by the investigators that nasal povidone-iodine may be considered as an alternative to mupirocin in a multifaceted approach to reduce SSI7.

Decolonizing patients can also prevent bloodstream infections by as much as 44%8. While early work focused on antibiotics (e.g., mupirocin nasal ointment), antiseptics have recently emerged as an alternative that aligns with antimicrobial stewardship programs. Recently, a large study of nursing homes in California showed that intermittent decolonization of residents yielded a 36% decrease in multi-drug resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA9).  

“As the shift from the use of nasal antibiotic to the use of nasal antiseptic for decolonization increases, it is anticipated that additional studies will be published in peer-reviewed literature with emphasis on the positive patient outcomes,” said St. John.

1 (PLoS Biol 14(8): e1002533), 2 (Rhinology 1986 Dec;24(4):249-55 and mBio Feb 2011, 2 (1) e00245-10), 3 (N. Engl. J. Med. 346 1871–1877.), 4 (N Engl J Med. 344(1):11-6),
5 (J Clin Microbiol. 43(7): 3491–3493), 6 (N Engl J Med. 2002 Jun 13;346(24):1871-7), 7 (Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014;35(7):826-832.), 8 (N Engl J Med 2013; 368:2255-2265)

9 ( Identifier: NCT03118232)

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