FRIDAY, March 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Using a low-cost antiseptic to clean the umbilical cords of babies born outside of a hospital lowers infant infection and death rates in developing countries, researchers say.
"Based on our review, using chlorhexidine to clean the umbilical cord saves newborn babies lives," said lead researcher Anju Sinha of the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi.
The findings were based on 12 clinical trials, some of them conducted in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. The results were published March 5 in the Cochrane Library.
"The greatest benefits were seen in the Southeast Asian studies," Sinha said in a journal news release.
"The results from African studies are less convincing, so we would like to see whether the results from ongoing trials in Zambia and Tanzania can substantiate this evidence," Sinha added.
The review concluded that cleaning umbilical cords with chlorhexidine reduced the risk of infections and the number of infant deaths by 12 percent, compared with keeping cords dry.
Use of the antiseptic led to a 50 percent reduction in the number of newborns with swelling of the cord stump that's commonly caused by bacterial infections, according to the findings.
Infections cause one-third of newborn deaths, the researchers noted. They said chlorhexidine has been used in hospitals and other health care facilities for many decades to prevent bacterial infections.
The antiseptic can be applied as a gel, wash or powder, the study authors said in the news release. In maternity care, chlorhexidine can be used as a vaginal disinfectant to prevent the spread of bacteria from mother to baby, or to clean a newborn's skin or umbilical cord.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about protecting babies from infection.