CENTRAL Coast researchers say they have found a way to reduce the risk of infection - and the associated need for antibiotics - for thousands of hospital patients across Australia.
Avondale College of Higher Education Professor Brett Mitchell said their findings, published in Lancet Infectious Disease, would influence clinical practice around the world.
"There are tens of thousands of urinary tract infections (UTI's) occurring in hospitals each year in Australia," Professor Mitchell said. "I think the figure is close to about 80,000 a year. And a lot of the cause is associated with catheter use."
The research team found that using the antiseptic, chlorhexidine, on the catheter insertion site "significantly" reduced the risk of urinary tract infections in hospitals.
"We saw a 94 per cent reduction in infections in patients who used the chlorhexidine compared to, in this case, saline - which is what is commonly used currently," Professor Mitchell said.
"We also saw a 74 per cent reduction in the presence of bacteria in the urine.
"A lot of patients who have bacteria in their urine end up on antibiotics.
"We were surprised by the results - it has been very exciting to have such a clear cut result."
Professor Mitchell, the chief investigator for the study, said 25 per cent of patients in hospital on any given day in Australia had a urinary catheter.
"A lot of antibiotics are used for urinary tract infections," he said. "The more we use antibiotics, the more resistance we get.
"So by reducing and preventing infections in the first place, we are reducing antimicrobial use for a very common infection."
Professor Mitchell said while the findings would need to be replicated in other studies, their research would have implications "right across the world".
"This will change international practice, not just practice in Australia," he said.
"It is very easy to implement, and very simple to do."
Private and public hospitals - including two from NSW - participated in the study.
"We had a diversity of hospitals and the same result was shown in all three," Professor Mitchell said. "Other studies have tried to do this type of work, but we have done it in a more detailed and thorough way, with a lot more people, so that it is more conclusive."
Co-author and registered nurse, Dr Anna Gardner - an adjunct professor from the School of Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology during the study - said the "nursing implications" for this research were considerable.
"Nurses are justifiably reluctant to use antiseptics without good evidence of their efficacy," she said.
But the trial would "help in clinical decision-making."
Grants from HCF Foundation and from the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale funded the study.