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Umbilical Cord Care: Soap May Be Risky

Soap and Water Alone Can Leave Dangerous Bacteria Behind
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The cord stumps were swabbed and tested after treatment, and the researchers found that infants in the dry care group were much more likely to have evidence of E. coli (34% vs. 22%) and staph (31% vs. 3%) than those who were treated with the antibacterial cleanser.

One infant in the dry care group was also diagnosed with a rare umbilical region infection known as omphalitis, which can lead to a rapidly spreading and deadly infection of the tissue under the skin -- a condition called necrotizing fasciitis.

"We don't want to terrify parents with this," says Janssen. "We just want to say that omphalitis still exists and has to be recognized. It has to be treated, and if it isn't then the baby can go on to become seriously ill."

Symptoms of infection include redness and swelling around the base of the umbilical cord stump.

Although the other infants who tested positive for bacteria did not become ill, researchers say the presence of the bacteria could pose a potential health risk to the baby and others.

William Kanto, MD, chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia, says when cord stumps become colonized with bacteria, studies have shown that it increases the risk of several types of dangerous infections.

"This study shows that you need to do something to protect the cord. Just dry care puts the patient at risk," says Kanto, who is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on the Fetus and Newborn.

"There is no medical reason to abandon using triple dye," says Kanto. "I would argue that you would be putting a child at risk for simply an aesthetic purpose. I don't see any reason to do dry care on the basis of this study."

In fact, the study also shows that nurses who cared for infants in the dry care group were more likely to report that the babies had discharge or a foul odor in the stump area.

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