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J Antimicrob Chemother 2013; 68: 1193 – 1199 doi:10.1093/jac/dks501 Advance Access publication 7 January 2013

Tea tree oil (5%) body wash versus standard care (Johnson’s Baby Softwash) to prevent colonization with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in critically ill adults: a randomized controlled trial Bronagh Blackwood1*, Gillian Thompson2, Ronan McMullan3, Michael Stevenson4, Thomas V. Riley5, Fiona A. Alderdice6, T. John Trinder7, Gavin G. Lavery2 and Danny F. McAuley1,2 1

*Corresponding author. Tel: +44-28-9097-2616; E-mail:

Received 26 September 2012; returned 28 October 2012; revised 26 November 2012; accepted 30 November 2012 Objectives: To determine whether the daily use of 5% tea tree oil (TTO) body wash (Novabac 5% Skin Wash) compared with standard care [Johnson’s Baby Softwash (JBS)] had a lower incidence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) colonization. Patients: The study setting was two intensive care units (ICUs; mixed medical, surgical and trauma) in Northern Ireland between October 2007 and July 2009. The study population comprised 391 patients who were randomized to JBS or TTO body wash. Methods: This was a Phase 2/3, prospective, open-label, randomized, controlled trial. Trial registration: ISRCTN65190967. The primary outcome was new MRSA colonization during ICU stay. Secondary outcomes included the incidence of MRSA bacteraemia and maximum increase in sequential organ failure assessment score. Results: A total of 445 patients were randomized to the study. After randomization, 54 patients were withdrawn; 30 because of a positive MRSA screen at study entry, 11 due to lack of consent, 11 were inappropriately randomized and 2 had adverse reactions. Thirty-nine (10%) patients developed new MRSA colonization (JBS n¼22, 11.2%; TTO body wash n¼17, 8.7%). The difference in percentage colonized (2.5%, 95% CI 28.95 to 3.94; P¼0.50) was not significant. The mean maximum increase in sequential organ failure assessment score was not significant (JBS 1.44, SD 1.92; TTO body wash 1.28, SD 1.79; P¼0.85) and no study patients developed MRSA bacteraemia. Conclusions: Compared with JBS, TTO body wash cannot be recommended as an effective means of reducing MRSA colonization. Keywords: Melaleuca alternifloria, MRSA, humans

Introduction Colonization with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is independently associated with mortality in critically ill adults.1 In the intensive care unit (ICU), up to 60% of MRSAcolonized patients subsequently develop an MRSA infection.2 Furthermore, colonization pressure, arising from a high prevalence

of MRSA colonization, is associated with acquisition of MRSA in the ICU setting.3 Therefore, it follows that measures to reduce MRSA colonization should deliver improved clinical outcomes. Tea tree oil (TTO) is a naturally occurring chemical with a broad spectrum of microbicidal activity.4,5 At a concentration of 5%, reflecting the typical concentration of commercially

# The Author 2013. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail:


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Queen’s University Belfast, Centre for Infection & Immunity, School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences, Belfast, Northern Ireland; 2Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, Regional Intensive Care Unit, The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Northern Ireland; 3Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, Department of Microbiology, The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Northern Ireland; 4Queen’s University Belfast, Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences, Belfast, Northern Ireland; 5University of Western Australia, School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia; 6Queen’s University Belfast, School of Nursing & Midwifery, Belfast, Northern Ireland; 7South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust, Intensive Care Unit, Ulster Hospital, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Blackwood et al.

Patients and methods We undertook a Phase 2/3, prospective, open-label, randomized, controlled trial at two ICUs in Northern Ireland between October 2007 and July 2009. Trial registration: ISRCTN65190967. The ICUs were closed (managed by consultants in intensive care), admitted a mixed population of medical, surgical and trauma patients and operated a 1 : 1 nurse to patient ratio for mechanically ventilated patients. All patients were eligible for inclusion except those who: were less than 18 years of age; were pregnant; were known to be colonized with MRSA on admission; were unlikely to remain in the ICU for at least 48 h; were known to have sensitivity to TTO; declined consent; were readmissions; or were enrolled in another trial of an Investigative Medicinal Product (or within the previous 30 days).

Interventions Patients were randomized to a standard care, body wash preparation (JBS) or a proprietary 5% TTO-enriched body wash preparation (Novabac 5% Skin Wash). The Novabac 5% Skin Wash is a clear lotion containing the active ingredient Melaleuca alternifolia oil (50 mg/g). A standardized bathing protocol was followed for patient hygiene. The quantity of body wash was dependent upon patient hygiene requirements, but each patient received at least one full bed bath daily with the allocated wash, and the number of body wash bottles used was recorded. Providing consent was not withdrawn, patients continued in the study until they reached the study endpoints; detection of ICU-acquired MRSA, ICU discharge or death. The allocated body wash was continued until one of the following intervention termination criteria was reached: adverse effect arising from either preparation; discharge from the ICU; or MRSA colonization.

Recruitment, randomization and consent The Northern Ireland Clinical Research Support Centre provided clinical trials unit support for the trial. Patients were randomized to TTO body wash or JBS in a 1 : 1 ratio using a web-based randomization service


ensuring allocation concealment. The research nurse gave the labelled, allocated body wash to the bedside nurse who was instructed to use only this wash for the patient. Treatment blinding was not possible because of the distinctive odour from the TTO body wash. On admission to ICU, patients were at risk of immediate exposure to MRSA and yet the critical nature of their illness rendered them incapable of giving or withholding informed consent. Therefore, as the intervention was low risk and a delay in recruiting patients would mean that a significant proportion of patients would be excluded, we randomized patients on admission and obtained retrospective informed consent from their legal representative as soon as possible. In addition, consent was obtained from patients as soon as they regained competence. This approach has previously been adopted in trials in the critical care setting.9 – 11 Patients were withdrawn from the study if: the admission MRSA screen was subsequently found to be positive; the patient experienced an adverse event; or the legal representative, or patient, declined retrospective consent or requested withdrawal from the study. The study protocol was approved by the Office for Research Ethics Committee Northern Ireland (07/NIR03/71) and the Medicines for Health Regulatory Authority (2007-002853-21).12 The trial was monitored for safety by an independent Data Monitoring Committee.

Study outcomes All patients who entered the study were followed-up until death or discharge from the hospital. Data were collected using an electronic case report form. On admission (before the first wash) and on discharge (or death), MRSA screening specimens were obtained from the nose and groin to measure the primary outcome. Additional information regarding MRSA acquisition (e.g. routine surveillance of all microbiological samples) was also recorded. Baseline assessments included: demographic information (age, gender, admission source, admission diagnosis and comorbidities); admission acute physiological and chronic health evaluation (APACHE) II score; sequential organ failure assessment (SOFA) score; and MRSA screening results. Daily assessments included: SOFA and therapeutic intervention scoring system (TISS) scores; patient placement in a single room; presence of adjacent patient colonized with MRSA; number of invasive devices; number of invasive device changes (insertion or removal); colonization and infection data; adverse events; details of wash; and number of body wash bottles used. Discharge assessments included: discharge MRSA screening results; duration of ventilation; ICU length of stay; and ICU mortality. In addition, hospital length of stay and hospital mortality were recorded. The primary outcome was new MRSA colonization during the inpatient episode in ICU, defined as detection of MRSA by conventional culture methods in screening swabs of nose and groin, or in clinical specimens processed by the laboratory in the course of usual clinical care. Secondary outcomes included the incidence of MRSA bacteraemia and maximum increase in SOFA score with reference to baseline assessment.

Data analysis The incidence of MRSA colonization was 13% (data obtained from a feasibility study) and we calculated a sample size to detect a 40% reduction in colonization between the two groups. Setting the a level at 0.05 significance (two-tailed) and power at 80% we required 1080 patients (540 in each group) over a 2 year period. Statistical analyses were according to a pre-specified statistical analysis plan. Analyses were two-sided using a 0.05 significance level. Descriptive statistics (mean, median, standard deviation and percentages) were used to describe baseline data, and we made comparisons between groups using the x2 test for dichotomous variables and the Student t-test for continuous variables. To determine a difference in MRSA colonization between the TTO and JBS groups the percentage difference was calculated using Fisher’s

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available preparations, TTO has been shown to deliver potent killing of MRSA.6 A small number of clinical trials using preparations containing TTO have established that topical formulations can eradicate MRSA in patients with established skin MRSA colonization.4,7,8 In the largest trial, 224 patients were enrolled and received either standard treatment (nasal mupirocin and chlorhexidine body wash) or TTO (10% TTO nasal cream and 5% TTO body wash).7 Overall, TTO was as effective as nasal mupirocin and chlorhexidine body wash in achieving successful decolonization: mupirocin was more effective at clearing nasal carriage than TTO cream, but TTO body wash was more effective than chlorhexidine at clearing skin sites. This study also provided safety data that TTO preparations were well tolerated. In spite of the laboratory and clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of TTO in eradicating MRSA, there are no published data evaluating its role in preventing MRSA colonization. This is a logical strategy to investigate because TTO has proven efficacy, low toxicity and, as it is not part of the standard therapy, prophylactic use does not expose a current MRSA treatment to the threat of resistance. The purpose of our study was to investigate the efficacy of 5% TTO body wash in preventing MRSA colonization in critically ill adults. The research hypothesis was that MRSA colonization would be reduced by daily use of 5% TTO body wash (Novabac 5% Skin Wash) compared with Johnson’s Baby Softwash (JBS).


Tea tree oil for prevention of MRSA

exact test and 95% CIs. The means of continuous variables were compared in two-way tables; factors were treatment and MRSA colonization. Log transformation of variables to normality was applied as appropriate. Logistic regression was used to explore predictors of MRSA colonization. A backward stepwise regression analysis that included the strongest independent predictors of MRSA was used. The contribution of each predictor was calculated by looking at the significance, and the variables that made no statistically significant contribution were removed from the model. All statistical analyses were carried out using STATA intercooled version 10.


Primary and secondary outcomes Thirty-nine (10%) patients developed new MRSA colonization (JBS 11.2%, 22/196; TTO 8.7%, 17/195). The difference in

Discussion Identifying appropriate interventions to prevent and treat MRSA colonization in critically ill patients is important for reducing the risk of MRSA infection and bacteraemia. TTO body wash is a promising therapy in suppressing MRSA colonization, but its role in preventing acquisition of MRSA is unknown. Although in vitro studies have demonstrated efficacy of TTO in eradicating MRSA,5,6,13,14 the evidence is inconclusive in clinical practice.7,8 TTO body wash has been successfully used as part of a decolonization regimen in nursing homes, but its specific contribution has not been determined.15 Our study was unique in being the first to investigate a TTO body wash to prevent acquisition of MRSA colonization. The findings of this study show that washing critically ill patients daily with a 5% TTO body wash had no significant effect on the incidence of MRSA colonization in comparison with using JBS. Our randomization procedures were robust and produced similar groups at baseline except there were significantly more males in the JBS group; however, we feel that this has not impacted on our findings for two reasons. First, because the P value just reached significance (P ¼ 0.045) and was only 1 from 13 comparison tests conducted on baseline variables. Second, the binary logistic regression of study MRSA colonization on single predictors revealed a P value of 0.589 for gender and therefore was not entered into the logistic regression model. The SOFA score is a recognized tool for assessing and monitoring organ failure and is often used as a predictor for morbidity and mortality in the ICU.16 For this reason, we measured baseline SOFA scores to compare severity of illness between the TTO and


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The planned sample size was 1080 patients. During the trial period, colonization rates reduced from 13% to 7%. A revised power calculation to take account of this change indicated that we would require a very much larger sample (2024 patients) to detect a 40% reduction in the rate of MRSA colonization. Based on the trial’s average rates of accrual (19 patients/month) target recruitment would not have been achieved until August 2016. On the decision of the Data Monitoring Committee the trial closed recruitment after 21 months as the lower than projected recruitment indicated the trial could not be completed in a feasible time period. The study design and patient recruitment numbers are depicted in Figure 1. Patient data were collected at site one from October 2007 to July 2009 and at site two from March 2009 to July 2009. A total of 1196 patients were screened for eligibility and 445 were eligible for inclusion and randomized to the study. After randomization, 30 patients were withdrawn because of a positive MRSA screen at admission, 9 legal representatives declined consent and 11 patients were inappropriately randomized to the study. During the course of the study, two patients in the TTO group were withdrawn because of adverse events (rash; subsequently determined to be unrelated to the body wash) and two patients declined consent. Although we intended to conduct an intention-to-treat analysis, the two patients withdrawn for adverse events were lost before we could enact the analysis. In total, 391 patients, 196 (50.13%) in the JBS group and 195 (49.87%) in the TTO group, were analysed. Both groups had similar baseline characteristics except for gender, where there was a significantly greater percentage of male patients in the JBS group (P¼0.045) (Table 1). Patient study characteristics were similar except that in comparison with the JBS group the TTO group had: a significantly longer length of stay (mean difference 1.92 days, P¼0.011); a significantly longer duration of ventilation (mean difference 1.62 days, P¼0.023); and a significantly greater number of days with devices in situ (mean difference 1.72 days, P¼0.019). The TTO group also had a significantly higher percentage of patients nursed adjacent to another patient with MRSA (mean difference 7.7%, P¼0.031) and used a larger quantity of body wash (mean difference 62 mL, P¼0.003) than the JBS group (Table 2). In non-colonized patients, study mortality was 22.7% (80/ 352): JBS 25.3% (44/174) and TTO 20.2% (36/178). In colonized patients, study mortality was 35.9% (14/39): JBS 36.4% (8/22) and TTO 35.3% (6/17).

percentage colonized (2.5%, 95% CI – 8.95 to 3.94; P ¼ 0.50) was not significant. Acquisition of MRSA colonization was detected from clinical specimens during ICU stay in 32 patients with a mean detection time of 10.5 (SD 7.6) days [JBS n¼ 17, 10.2 (7.9) days; TTO n¼ 15, 10.8 (7.6) days]. MRSA colonization was detected from specimens at ICU discharge for seven patients with a mean detection time of 8.5 (SD 5.7) days [JBS n¼ 5, 7.9 (6.4); TTO n¼ 2, 9.4 (5) days]. During ICU stay, the most common colonization sites were the nose (JBS 28%; TTO 22%), sputum (JBS 19%; TTO 22%) and groin (JBS 16%; TTO 19%). There was no significant difference in the mean maximum increase in SOFA score between groups (JBS 1.44, SD 1.92; TTO 1.28, SD 1.79; P ¼ 0.85) and no study patients developed MRSA bacteraemia. There were three significant prognostic factors for MRSA colonization (Table 3): SOFA score at baseline; ICU days; and number of device changes (defined as either the insertion or removal of invasive cannulae or catheters/day for the days on the study). The results for the single and the multiple regressor models are shown in Table 4. Each additional day in ICU increased the risk of MRSA colonization by 8%. After adjusting for other factors, longer ICU stay significantly increased the risk of MRSA colonization. The SOFA score and device changes were also significant predictors of the risk of MRSA infection. The number of device changes reduced the risk of MRSA colonization by 16% (OR ¼0.84, 95% CI ¼0.73 to 0.96; P¼ 0.012). There was no statistically significant association between the treatment arm and MRSA colonization.

Blackwood et al.

Excluded n=751 <48 h in ICU n=355 Enrolled in other study n=268 Readmission n=52 MRSA positive n=48 Aged <18 years n=23 Declined consent n=5 Known sensitivity to TTO n=0 Pregnant n=0

Admissions n=1297 Research nurse unavailable n=101 Assessed for eligibility n=1196

Randomized n=445 Withdrawn n=50 Declined consent n=9 Inappropriate randomization n=11 Pre-intervention MRSA screen positive n=30

JBS n=196

Withdrawn n=4 Adverse events n=2 Patient withdrew consent n=2

Completed n=195

Completed n=196

Figure 1. Patient flow chart.

JBS groups at baseline. In addition, we hypothesized that TTO body wash would reduce colonization and potentially subsequent infection and that this beneficial effect would be reflected in a lower SOFA score. Therefore we included the change in SOFA score from baseline as a surrogate measure of outcome. Our results show that those who acquired MRSA colonization had a statistically significant increase in their maximum SOFA score compared with those who did not. Furthermore, each additional SOFA point increased the odds of MRSA colonization by 13%. It was not possible to determine whether the increase in SOFA score was due to colonization or if colonization was a result of the increased disease severity that was reflected in the SOFA score. Factors that are known to increase the risk of MRSA colonization include ICU length of stay,2,17 – 19 the number of invasive devices in situ 20 – 24 and being nursed adjacent to another patient with MRSA.3,25 The comparison of these study characteristics between the JSB and TTO groups shows that the TTO group was at higher risk of acquiring MRSA colonization. Although our study was not designed to address this treatment effect, it does raise some interesting questions about the potential protective influence of TTO. Our findings suggest that increased length of stay in ICU was a predisposing risk factor for acquisition of MRSA colonization and each additional day increased the odds of acquiring MRSA colonization by 8% (95% CI 5%–15%). Furthermore, in this dataset, our results showed that the mean number of device changes/day for the days on the study was associated with a 16% reduced risk of MRSA colonization. In


this study, device changes were recorded as a composite of both insertions (including a device change) and removals and we were unable to separate these. Removing the device may eliminate risk, and changing the device may mean that the device does not remain in situ long enough for the patient to develop colonization. Had we been able to censor out the device insertions we may have been able to determine the extent to which they reduced risk. Regarding risk associated with acquisition of MRSA and exposure to patients known to be MRSA positive, current UK guidelines recommend that patients colonized with MRSA should be nursed in a single bedroom (isolation) or cohort nursed.26 In our study, isolation was not always possible due to a lack of facilities, although other strict infection control measures were applied. Even though a significantly greater percentage of patients in the TTO group were nursed adjacent to a patient with MRSA, this appeared not to increase the likelihood of MRSA transmission in this dataset. Although an interesting point, it is not possible to assert that TTO had a protective role. The role of isolation as a factor on its own in preventing MRSA colonization has not been substantiated, although isolation precautions when used as part of a collection of interventions have been shown to be effective.27 The major limitation to the study was its early termination because of low accrual and an inability to recruit the required sample within the study time frame. The sample size and expected recruitment period were based on an earlier feasibility study; however, accrual and colonization rates were lower than

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5% TTO body wash n=199


Tea tree oil for prevention of MRSA

Table 1. Patient baseline characteristics; total number of patients analysed ¼391 Variable

JBS, n¼196

TTO, n ¼195

Age (years), mean (SD)

57.1 (19.4)

Male, n (%)

128 (65.3)

Admission source, n (%) accident and emergency department other hospital ward theatres other

Admission diagnosis, n (%) respiratory cardiovascular gastrointestinal trauma neurological other APACHE II baseline, mean (SD) Comorbidities, n (%) CNS cardiovascular system respiratory system gastrointestinal hepatic renal haematological

P value


57.3 (17.9)


107 (54.9)


Length of ICU stay (days), mean (SD) Duration of ventilation (days), mean (SD) Number of days with devices in situ, mean (SD) Nursed in isolation, n (%) Adjacent patient with MRSA, n (%) MRSA antibiotic exposure, n (%) Any antibiotic exposure, n (%) Steroid exposure, n (%) Quantity (mL) of body wash used, mean (SD) TISS score, mean (SD) SOFA score, mean (SD) ICU mortality, n (%) ICU+hospital mortality, n (%) Adverse events leading to withdrawal, n (%)

0.96 17 (8.7)

16 (8.2)

39 34 90 16

44 (22.6) 36 (18.5) 85 (43.6) 14 (7.2)

(19.9) (17.3) (45.9) (8.2)

0.65 102 (52.0) 94 (48.0)

107 (54.9) 88 (45.1) 0.44

28 36 19 31 71 11

(14.3) (18.4) (9.7) (15.8) (36.2) (5.6)

17.1 (7.2)

32 (16.4) 38 (19.5) 14 (7.2) 19 (9.7) 77 (39.5) 15 (7.7) 17.6 (7.3)

JBS, n¼196

TTO, n¼195

P value

8.10 (6.32)

10.02 (8.41)


7.35 (6.0)

8.97 (7.97)


8.07 (6.31)

9.79 (8.04)


27 (13.8) 17 (8.7)

38 (19.5) 32 (16.4)

0.17 0.031*

47 (24.0) 56 (28.7) 159 (81.1) 170 (87.2) 51 (26.0) 55 (28.2) 343.1 (167.8) 405.1 (235.3) 36.7 (6.28) 9.35 (2.94) 36 (18.4) 52 (26.5) 0

36.7 (6.56) 9.19 (3.03) 27 (13.8) 42 (21.5) 2 (1.01)

0.34 0.13 0.71 0.003* 1.00 0.60 0.28 0.30 —

0.50 *Significant at P , 0.05 level.

26 (13.3) 63 (32.1) 33 (16.8) 22 (11.2) 6 (3.1) 11 (5.6) 6 (3.1)

16 (8.2) 69 (35.4) 39 (20.0) 16 (8.2) 7 (3.6) 6 (3.1) 7 (3.6)

0.15 0.57 0.50 0.40 0.99 0.33 0.99

*Significant at P, 0.05 level.

expected. Steps were taken to monitor and improve recruitment (including the addition of a second site), but after 21 months the Data Monitoring Committee stopped the trial because it could not be completed within a feasible period. During the study period, the incidence of MRSA colonization in the ICU reduced from 13% to 7%, most likely as a result of a multifaceted infection prevention strategy. A further limitation to this study was that the intervention was not blinded. This was primarily a result of the distinctive smell of TTO, which is difficult to mask; however, deception has been successfully used elsewhere.28 Nevertheless, we do not feel that the lack of blinding caused performance bias as we recorded the number of daily washes, and the frequency of washes was similar in both groups. The significantly higher quantity of body wash used in the TTO group is most likely a result of either the nurses’ perceptions of needing to use more because of the non-foaming nature of the wash, or the significantly longer length of ICU stay in comparison with the JBS group. In keeping our intervention as close to usual hygiene practice as possible, we used TTO body wash and did not use additional TTO nasal cream. As colonization was mainly detected in the

Table 3. Summary data for key prognostic factors for MRSA colonization

MRSA positive (n) Age (years), mean (SD) Age (years), range SOFA score at baseline, mean (SD) SOFA score at baseline, range ICU days, median (IQR) ICU days, range Number of device changes, median (IQR) Number of device changes, range

JBS, n¼196

TTO, n¼195

Total, n¼391

22 57.1 (19.4) 18.2– 94.3 7.9 (2.8)

17 57.3 (17.9) 18 –87.1 7.9 (3.0)

39 57.2 (18.6) 18– 94.3 7.9 (2.9)

3– 16

1 – 15

1 to 16

6 (3, 11) 1– 446 6 (4, 8)

8 (4, 13) 1 – 50 6 (4, 9)

7 (4, 12) 1 –50 6 (4, 8)

1– 23

1 – 31

1 –31

anterior nares, future studies might consider the addition of nasal cream. To date, the safety and tolerability of long-term administration of TTO nasal ointment and its effectiveness are unknown.7,8 In our study, TTO body wash was applied and rinsed off the skin; had it been left on the skin for a period of time it may have been more effective. However, the consequences of not rinsing the body wash are unknown and may be detrimental.


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Admission type, n (%) medical surgical

Table 2. Patient study characteristics; total number of patients¼391

Blackwood et al.

Table 4. Logistic regression model Single regressor model

TTO SOFA score (true) ICU stay Device changes

Multiple regressor model


95% CI

P value

pseudo R 2


95% CI

P value

pseudo R 2 ¼0.1319

0.76 1.12 1.08 1.03

0.39 –1.47 0.996–1.25 1.05 –1.15 0.96 –1.12

0.409 0.059 , 0.001 0.389

0.0027 0.0141 0.0866 0.0027

0.75 1.13 1.13 0.84

0.36 –1.56 1.004–1.28 1.07 –1.18 0.73 –0.96

0.445 0.042 ,0.001 0.012

sensitivity¼10.26% specificity¼99.72% positive predictive value ¼80% negative predictive value¼90.93%

Acknowledgements The study was adopted by the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network (Critical Care) and was supported by staff from the Clinical Research Support Centre. We thank the support staff and all the nursing staff involved in patient care. We also wish to thank Novasel Australia Pty Ltd for supplying the TTO preparation free of charge for this study.

Funding This work was undertaken by G. T. for a PhD in Nursing and was funded by the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care, Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for a Doctoral Fellowship (grant number EAT3460/06) and the Regional Intensive Care Unit’s Education, Training and Research Fund.

Transparency declarations None to declare.

Author contributions G. T. conceived the study and participated in its design, B. B., R. M. and D. F. M. made substantial contributions to conception and design, obtaining funding and providing doctoral supervision, F. A. A. provided doctoral supervision, T. V. R., T. J. T. and G. G. L. made substantial contributions to design and M. S. made substantial contributions to the statistical analysis. All authors helped to draft the manuscript and read and approved the final manuscript.


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Dryden et al.7 identified a 46% success rate for wound decolonization when a 10% TTO cream was applied once daily for 5 days and not rinsed off; therefore, any future research on a TTO body wash to prevent MRSA colonization should consider contact time and concentration. Despite the TTO group having a significantly longer length of stay, greater number of invasive device changes and greater percentage of patients nursed adjacent to other patients with MRSA, the results of this trial showed no significant effect on MRSA colonization in critically ill patients between those who were washed daily with TTO and those who were washed with JBS. We were unable to achieve our required sample size so the question of effectiveness of TTO in preventing MRSA colonization remains unanswered. Notwithstanding, TTO body wash was safe to use and well tolerated.

Tea tree oil for prevention of MRSA

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Tea tree oil (5%) body wash versus standard care (John's Baby Softwash)