Original Article

Bathing Habits in Emergency Department Patients with Cellulitis or Abscess Versus Controls

Authors: Daniel Barkhuff, MD, Carlos H. Nitta, , Robert Cobb, NP-C, Amy A. Ernst, MD, Steven J. Weiss, MD


Objective: Cellulitis is a leading cause of emergency department (ED) visits, with more than 200 cases per 100,000 people per year. Although many risk factors have been identified, including edema, skin breakdown, and penetrance of the skin, there are few data available on whether personal hygiene habits (bathing and clean clothes) are associated with increased risk for soft tissue infection. Studies looking at chlorhexidine baths in the intensive care unit to prevent soft tissue infections have shown conflicting and limited efficacy. Our objective was to determine whether poor personal hygiene, as manifested in poor bathing habits, a lack of access to clean clothes, or frequent needle self-injections, are associated with cellulitis or abscesses.

Methods: The research is a cross-sectional cohort study of patients with either cellulitis, soft tissue abscess, or both (cases) versus a control group of patients with abdominal pain without prior surgeries in a large, urban ED in a convenience sampling. We asked about bathing habits, access to clean clothing, and skin breaks from intravenous (IV) drug use as risk factors. The two groups were compared using descriptive statistics, and a regression analysis was performed to determine the characteristics that are predictive of soft tissue infections. The study was powered at 0.8 to detect a 20% difference in adequate bathing habits with 100 per group.

Results: In an approximate 1-year study period, 108 cases were identified and compared with 104 abdominal pain controls selected at random from patients presenting to the same ED. In the cellulitis/abscess group the mean age was 47 and 81% were men, and in the control group the mean age was 45 and 39% were men. There were significantly more men in the cellulitis/abscess group (Diff 22%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 8–34, P < 0.01). Seventy percent (76 of 108) of cases versus 58% (80 of 104) of controls bathed daily (odds ratio [OR] 1.7, 95% CI 0.98–3.1, not significant). There was a significant difference between the two groups in laundry habits: 66% (71 of 108) of cases versus 42% (44 of 104) of controls did not have access to clean laundry daily (adjusted OR [AOR] 2.5, 95% CI 1.4–5.0, P < 0.01). The most profound and significant difference was noted between cases and controls regarding the use of IV drugs, in which 20 of 108 cases (19%) used IV drugs versus 3 of 104 controls (3%, P < 0.01). Finally, 35 of 108 (32%) of our cases had a history of infections, whereas only 5 of 104 (5%) of the controls had cellulitis or an abscess previously (P < 0.01). On regression analysis significant predictors of soft tissue infection were history of skin infection (AOR 7.0) and not cleaning clothes daily (AOR 2.5).

Conclusions: There was no significant difference in bathing habits, but there was a significant difference in laundry habits between the case and control groups. Our study further confirms that IV drug use is a risk factor for cellulitis and no access to clean clothes daily was significantly related to the development of cellulitis. Failing to obtain daily showers was not associated with an increase in infection.

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