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Prophylactic antibiotics are not indicated in uncomplicated hand lacerations.

Three Part Question

In [a patient with an uncomplicated hand laceration] does [the use of prophylactic antibiotics] lead to a [reduced incidence of wound infection]?

Clinical Scenario

A patient attends the Emergency Department with an 'uncomplicated' hand laceration. You wonder whether prophylactic antibiotics are indicated to try to reduce the risk of infection. 'Uncomplicated' is taken to mean a wound with no fracture, foreign body, tendon injury, bone injury, joint injury, or neurovascular injury.

Search Strategy

OVID interface on the world wide web. 1966 – January 2007
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, January 2007
[(hand wound$.mp.) OR (hand laceration$.mp.) OR ( hand or exp Hand Injuries)] AND [antibiotic$.mp. or exp Anti-Bacterial Agents/]

Search Outcome

This mapped to 346 citations. Limiting it to "humans and English language" reduced the number to 237. Only five papers directly addressed the question.
No additional papers were found in Cochrane.

Relevant Paper(s)

Author, date and country Patient group Study type (level of evidence) Outcomes Key results Study Weaknesses
Beesley et al,
145 patients with uncomplicated hand lacerations. Patients randomised to either treatment group with oral Magnapan (flucloxacillin & ampicillin) or control group (placebo). Total number of patients 145. Treatment group 70 patients. Control group 75. Patients reviewed on day 5.Randomised Clinical Trial.Oral antibiotic1.6% infection rateDoes not look into individual patient risk factors for infection. Does not give clinical criteria for diagnosing or excluding wound infection.
No antibiotic/Placebo1.5% infection rate
OverallNo statistically significant difference between the groups
Haughey et al,
394 patients with uncomplicated hand wounds presenting within 12 hours of initial injury. Included lacerations, crush wounds, puncture wounds, avulsions and combination injuries. Patients randomised to treatment group of 160 patients who received oral cephalexin and a control group of 234 patients who received no antibiotic.Randomised Clinical Trial.Oral antibiotic10.6%.infection rateDoes not give results for antibiotic vs no antibiotic infection rates between different wound types. Does not take into account other risk factors for wound infection.
No antibiotic/Placebo7.7% infection rate
OverallNo statistically significant difference between the groups
Grossman et al,
280 patients with uncomplicated hand lacerations requiring suture. 15 excluded as lost to follow up. Patients randomised to treatment groups with IM or oral antibiotics or control group with placebo. 96 patients given IM cefazolin, 78 oral cephalexin and 91 an IM placebo.Randomised Clinical Trial.IM antibiotics0% infection rateOnly looked at hand lacerations requiring suturing.
Oral antibiotics2.5% infection rate
No antibiotic/Placebo1.1% infection rate
OverallNo statistically significant difference between the groups
Roberts et al,
368 patients with uncomplicated hand lacerations requiring suture. Patients randomly allocated to treatment groups of IM or oral antibiotics and a control group of no antibiotic. Patients were reviewed at 7 days for infection and imperfect healing. 108 patients were assigned to the IM Triplopen group, 117 to the oral flucloxacillin and 113 to the no antibiotic group.Randomised Clinical Trial.IM antibioticInfection rate 8%, Imperfect Healing 15%.Definition of infection was, "a clear collection of pus, which empties itself spontaneously, or after incision." This omits milder infections which were grouped with other complications under the heading, "imperfect healing". Study only looked at hand wounds, which were sutured.
Oral antibioticInfection rate 9.5%, Imperfect Healing 29.5%
No antibiotic/PlaceboInfection rate 12%, Imperfect Healing 29%
OverallNo statistically significant difference between the groups
Whitaker et al,
170 patients with clean hand incisions presenting within 24 hours of initial injury. Included uncomplicated injuries and tendon/nerve injuries. Patients all underwent operative debridement with or without repair and were randomised to receive antibiotics or placebo. 56 patients given IV flucloxacillin, 46 patients given oral flucloxacillin and 55 patients given placebo.Randomised Clinical Trial.IV antibiotics13% infection rateOnly looked at hand injuries receiving operative debridement. Also included patients with tendon and nerve injury.
Oral antibiotics4% infection rate
No antibiotic/placebo15% infection rate
OverallNo statistically significant difference between the groups


These studies do not show any statistically significant difference in wound infection rates in uncomplicated hand lacerations in patients receiving either prophylactic antibiotics or not receiving antibiotics.

Editor Comment

Antibiotics would not normally be given IM now.

Clinical Bottom Line

No evidence to suggest prophylactic antibiotics reduce the rate wound infection in uncomplicated hand lacerations.


  1. Beesley JR, Bowden G, Hardy RH, Reynolds TD. Prophylactic antibiotics in minor hand injuries. Injury 6(4):366, 1975 May.
  2. Haughey RE, Lammers RL, Wagner DK. Use of antibiotics in the initial management of soft tissue hand wounds. Annals of Emergency Medicine 10(4):187-192, 1981 April.
  3. Grossman JAI, Adams JP, kunec J. Prophylactic Antibiotics in Simple Hand Lacerations JAMA 245(10):1055-6, 1981 March 13.
  4. Roberts AHN, Teddy PJ. A Prospective Trial of Prophylactic Antibiotics In Hand Lacerations. British Journal of Surgery 64(6):394-6, 1977 Jun
  5. Whittaker JP, Nancarrow JD, Sterne GD. The role of antibiotic prophylaxis in clean incised hand injuries: a prospective randomized placebo controlled double blind trial. J Hand Surg [Br]. 30(2):162-7, 2005 May.