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Timing of Antibiotics Reduces Post C-Section Infections

Giving antibiotics before cesarean section surgery rather than just after the newborn’s umbilical cord is clamped cuts the infection rate at the surgical site in half.

“We followed more than 8,000 women over an eight-year period, and our findings support giving antibiotics just before a cesarean section to prevent infections,” says David Warren, MD, Washington University infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Until recently, standard practice in the U.S. was to give antibiotics when the baby was delivered, after the umbilical cord was clamped.”


David Warren, MD


The previous practice of waiting to give antibiotics until after the surgical delivery of the baby evolved out of concern that these drugs might hide signs of blood infection in the newborn. But other recent studies have shown that giving antibiotics in the hour before surgery both reduced the risk of infection in the mother and had no effect on the health of the infant. “It was always a theoretical concern that giving antibiotics might somehow mask sepsis in the neonate,” says Warren. “But there have been several recent studies showing that this was not an issue.”

In this study, the researchers tracked C-section deliveries and associated surgical site infections at Barnes-Jewish Hospital between January 2003 and December 2010. Based on reduced infection rates following other types of surgeries, the hospital changed its policy to administering antibiotics before C-section surgery in January 2004. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended the same change in practice in 2011.

In 2003, the year before the policy changed, the infection rate at Barnes-Jewish Hospital fluctuated between nine or 10 infections per 100 cesarean deliveries. A downward trend in the infection rate began after the policy switch, and by 2010, the rate was about two infections per 100 cesarean sections. On average, researchers calculated about five times fewer infections per 100 surgeries due to changing the timing of the antibiotics. Over the entire eight-year period, researchers observed 303 infections following 8,668 cesarean deliveries.

Investigators also pointed out that infection rates were cut almost in half after the policy change despite the fact that there were significant increases over the course of the study in the number of patients who were overweight or obese. Having a higher body mass index is associated with increased risk of infection following surgery. The study is available online and appears in the August 2012 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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