Author: SHEA
Date Published:11/25/2014 11:23:00 AM
Publication Format:

For Immediate Release: November 25, 2014
Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America
Contact: Tamara Moore / 202-745-5114
Author contact: Michael David /

Using Wash Cloths in Jails Shows Promise for Reducing Costly Infections

CHICAGO (November 25, 2014) – New research shows providing detainees wash cloths treated with a skin cleanser could reduce the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) bacteria in U.S. jails. Researchers looked at the effect on transmission of S. aureus of using wash cloths treated with chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) compared with wash cloths with only plain water in detainees at Dallas County Jail.  The study was published in the December issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA).

"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, a lead author of the study. "Our findings suggest a promising and inexpensive intervention that may decrease S. aureus colonization in this high-risk group."

Community-associated MRSA is the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections in U.S. jails. Asymptomatic MRSA carriage is a risk factor for infection and detainees possess a high prevalence of nasal colonization, which can be spread from person-to-person by direct contact or via contaminated inanimate objects. These infections also take a significant financial toll in terms of healthcare costs because MRSA infections are expensive to treat and are often recurrent. 

Researchers conducted a randomized, controlled trial with 4,196 detainees in 68 detention divisions in the Dallas County Jail. Divisions were randomly assigned to be in one of three clusters: those who received disposable wash cloths that contained the skin cleanser CHG to clean their entire skin surface three times per week, those who received identical wash cloths containing only water, and the last group received no specific skin cleansing treatment. 

Within six months, the CHG and plain water wash cloths did not significantly decrease the presence of MRSA.  However, after six months, carriage of any S. aureus was 51.1 percent in the group with no intervention, 40.7 percent in the group using CHG wash cloths and 42.8 percent in the group using water wash cloths. 

The CHG wash cloths were responsible for a significant 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.


Michael David, Jane Siegel, Janet Henderson, Greg Leos, Kaming Lo, Jerry Iwuora, Esmaeil Porsa, L. Philip Schumm, Susan Boyle-Vavra, Robert Daum. "A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Chlorhexidine (CHG)-Soaked Cloths to Reduce MRSA and MSSA Carriage Prevalence in an Urban Jail." Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (December 2014).

Published through a partnership between the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and The University of Chicago Press, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology provides original, peer-reviewed scientific articles for anyone involved with an infection control or epidemiology program in a hospital or healthcare facility. ICHE is ranked 13 out of 158 journals in its discipline in the latest Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports from Thomson Reuters.

SHEA is a global professional society representing more than 2,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals with expertise and passion for healthcare epidemiology and infection prevention to improve patient care in all healthcare settings. SHEA's mission is to prevent and control healthcare-associated infections and advance the field of healthcare epidemiology. The society advances its mission through advocacy, science and research, expert guidelines and guidance on key issues, the exchange of knowledge, and high-quality education.  SHEA focuses resources on promoting antimicrobial stewardship, ensuring a safe healthcare environment, encouraging transparency in public reporting related to HAIs, focused efforts on prevention and more. Visit SHEA online at, and @SHEA_Epi.