Infection accounts for almost one-third of neonatal mortality worldwide; affordable, feasible and effective interventions to improve survival are urgently needed. A useful agent is chlorhexidine, a topical antiseptic that is active against aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms.
According to results of a systematic review
by the Cochrane Collaboration (online, 5 March 2015), chlorhexidine applied to the umbilical cord of newborns reduced the risk of omphalitis (infection of the umbilical stump) by 50% and neonatal mortality by 12%. By contrast, maternal vaginal application of chlorhexidine did not reduce infection risk compared with usual care.
“Based on our review, using chlorhexidine to clean the umbilical cord saves the lives of newborn babies,” says lead researcher Anju Sinha, who is based at the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi, India.